Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Nativity - by GK Chesteron

I came upon this nativity poem by Chesterton that I have not seen before. I like it - it romps along in a fashion reminiscent of The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes. But I am not really sure about the final verse and what he is trying to do with it. It needs more pondering.

The Nativity

The thatch on the roof was as golden,
Though dusty the straw was and old,
The wind had a peal as of trumpets,
Though blowing and barren and cold,
The mother's hair was a glory
Though loosened and torn,
For under the eaves in the gloaming
      A child was born.

Have a myriad children been quickened.
Have a myriad children grown old,
Grown gross and unloved and embittered,
Grown cunning and savage and cold?
God abides in a terrible patience
Unangered, unworn,
And again for the child that was squandered
      A child is born.

What know we of aeons behind us,
Dim dynasties lost long ago,
Huge empires, like dreams unremembered,
Huge cities for ages laid low?
This at least—that with blight and with blessing
With flower and with thorn,
Love was there, and his cry was among them,
      "A child is born".

Though the darkness be noisy with systems,
Dark fancies that fret and disprove,
Still the plumes stir around us, above us
The wings of the shadow of love:
Oh! princes and priests, have ye seen it
Grow pale through your scorn.
Huge dawns sleep before us, deep changes,
       A child is born.

And the rafters of toil still are gilded
With the dawn of the star of the heart,
And the wise men draw near in the twilight,
Who are weary of learning and art,
And the face of the tyrant is darkened.
His spirit is torn,
For a new King is enthroned; yea, the sternest,
      A child is born.

And the mother still joys for the whispered
First stir of unspeakable things,
Still feels that high moment unfurling
Red glory of Gabriel's wings.
Still the babe of an hour is a master
Whom angels adorn,
Emmanuel, prophet, anointed,
      A child is born.

And thou, that art still in thy cradle,
The sun being crown for thy brow.
Make answer, our flesh, make an answer,
Say, whence art thou come—who art thou?
Art thou come back on earth for our teaching
To train or to warn—?
Hush—how may we know?—knowing only
      A child is born.

~G.K. Chesterton (ca. 1902)

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Where the love really is at Christmas

I bought this little wooden nativity scene this year. One day I am going to make one, but till then.

So, it was my last day of work for 2016 yesterday. I feel quite chuffed with myself that in the last few weeks I gave myself a hasty crash course in Adobe InDesign (there was a lot of googling!) and made a newspaper. I received the Christmas Message from the Bishop on Wednesday, squeezed it in, took a deep breath and printed a gazillion, then yesterday put mountains of them in the mail, so I can now take rest in peace.

Once again I am flying off by myself over Christmas to do another tour of the relatives and maybe a couple of old friends, as the weird and unloved spinster. I don’t particularly enjoy doing this (though I am keen to see my grandparents in particular), and answering all the questions (can you tell?), but I accept that this is the life God has given me to live.

And I know that, for all the talk about “family” and “loved ones” at Christmas, that’s not what it’s for. And I know that ultimately I am not unloved (and that someone did indeed take the initiative). As dear old Christina Rossetti wrote, love came down at Christmas. Here’s that poem in full:

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine,
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.

Worship we the Godhead,
Love Incarnate, Love Divine,
Worship we our Jesus,
But wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token,
Love be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.

And I think this quote from Marilynne Robinson deserves a repost. Even when love seems at its most elusive here on earth, God loves us with this wondrous love. I don’t object to the ‘love narrative’. God didn’t send his Son down here simply to make a penal substitutionary atonement. That would have been completely unnecessary if he didn’t love us enough to consider that worth doing. Higher than the point that God is angry with our sin and too Holy to suffer it, such that he had to send his Son to the cross to reconcile us, is the fact that he cared enough to do it, rather than atomise us in an instant. But here is Marilynne Robinson on the point:
There is a great old American hymn that sounds like astonishment itself, and I mention it here because even its title speaks more powerfully of the meaning of our narrative than whole shelves of books. It is called “Wondrous Love”. “What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss / to bear the dreadful cross for my soul?” If we have entertained the questions we moderns must pose to ourselves about the plausability of the incarnation, if we have sometimes paused to consider the other ancient stories of miraculous birth, this is no great matter. But if we let these things distract us, we have lost the main point of the narrative, which is that God is of a kind to love the world extravagantly, wondrously, and the world is of a kind to be worth, which is not to say worthy of, this pained and rapturous love. This is the essence of the story that forever eludes telling. It lives in the world not as myth or history but as a saturating light...
~ When I Was A Child I Read Books, by Marilynne Robinson

I don’t leave till Tuesday, and the urge to post something might strike again before then, but if not I hope anyone still out there reading here has a joyful Christmas and a peaceful New Year.

Monday, December 12, 2016

A little Wendell Berry observation

I really need to get back into the swing of blogging. I've had an old childhood friend visiting for the weekend (who was happy to take up her book at any opportunity, which is my sort of house guest! - you know they are happy with a little bit of nothingness). We went to the National Museum and saw the A History of the World in 100 Objects exhibit from the British Museum. The truth is, it was perhaps not quite as amazing as I was expecting it to be, but I am pleased I saw it.

I thought I'd share a little Wendell Berry. There is a character in his novels called Burley Coulter. I have quite a soft spot for Burley, though he is not one one who has walked the straight and narrow. Here is a  passage that shows the beautiful way Berry observes the simple things. He commenting on the tobacco harvesting:
I never caught up with Elton and Nathan and Danny, or came anywhere near it, but at least when the rows were straight I always had them in sight, and I loved to watch them. Though they kept an even, steady pace, it was not a slow one. They drove into the work, maintaining the same pressing rhythm form one end of the row to the other, and yet they worked well, as smoothly and precisely as dancers. To see them moving side by side against the standing crop, leaving it fallen, the field changed, behind them, was maybe like watching Homeric soldiers going into battle. It was momentous and beautiful, and touchingly, touchingly mortal. They were spending themselves as they worked, giving up their time; they would not return by the way they went.

The good crew men among us were Burley and Elton. When the sun was hot and the going hard, it would put heart into us to hear Burley singing out down the row some scrap of human sorry that his flat, exuberant voice both expressed and mocked:

Allll our sins and griefs to bear – oh!

– that much only, raised abruptly out of the silence like the howl of some solitary dog. Or he would sing with a lovelorn quaver in his voice:

Darlin', fool yourself and love me one more time.

And when we were unloading the wagons in the barn, he would start his interminable tale about his life as a circus teamster. It was not meant to be believed, and yet in our misery we listened to his extravagant wonderful lies as if he had been Marco Polo returned from Cathay.
From That Distant Land, a short story in the book of the same title.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Latest op shop art find

On the weekend I was swanning up Lonsdale Street in Braddon with some visiting family, and I’d already been fossicking around in a ‘Designer Op Shop’ and been on my way, but on walking back up the street past the shop I noticed the basket out the front on the footpath containing sale framed art. I flicked through and spied the painting below and quite liked it. It was the only one without a sticker so I took it in, asked what they wanted for it, that being $24, and took it home. I like impressionism in oils and I like an alpine scene. But mostly I bought it because of the dusty blues in the shadows and sky as those are the colours in my bedroom (which are not altogether in decor fashion at the moment). The evidence is in the cushion.

When I got home, as I tend to do, I googled the artist and discovered that Peg Minty was a local artist who received an Order of Australia Medal for her contribution to the art world, and there is a street in the suburb of Weston named after her (you can read about her if you search her name here). So I am quite chuffed with it. I now have three op-shop paintings in my room by local female artists, all featuring dusty blues. It's become a thing.

The painting needs some cleaning and I will also clean and paint the frame, but I’m an old hand at painting op shop frames now (yay for another chalk painting project!).

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Christ is mine forevermore

So, way back here I blogged about a song I loved at our annual Bishop's Convention. I loved it so much I asked the friend who was leading the music at that convention about it and he sent me a demo recording, which I have enjoyed listening to since.

Well, City Alight have now released a music video, so here it is. The timing is different, and to be honest I prefer the demo so far (perhaps because it's what I currently know, though the timing was perhaps a bit more interesting), and they've changed the refrain on the end a little, but I like this. The lyrics are so good.

(Tonight at church we sang another City Alight song 'Home', also written by Jonny Robinson, the son of our diocesan bishop, and Rich Thompson - I liked that too.)

Monday, November 21, 2016

Checking in

A photo posted by Alison Payne (@thisfoggyday) on

So it’s been over a month. There have been a lot of blog posts composed in my head, but they obviously haven’t made it out of there. At least you’ll all be pleased to know I am no longer tired. Well, there are days when it’s hard to get out of bed, but not TIRED like back then. That was weariness of a whole other order. I’ve since been getting back into running and a version of pilates at home and all is going well physically.

For some of the things I have blogged about in my head -

I’m not sure that I have mentioned here that earlier in the year I joined the committee of the Canberra Women’s Christian Convention. That's been a good experience and one of the best things was getting to know the other women on the committee. The grand convention was on the 22nd of October, so there were things to do and rehearsals and set up and so on beforehand. On the day I sat on the registration desk in the morning (seriously though people, if a conference involves seminar electives and lunch, please don't just turn up on the morning without registering – this is very unhelpful and takes time to sort out) and then I MC’d one of the seminars. I have never done such a thing and accepted with some trepidation, but I think it went OK, and I was glad I had a go at it (you know, life begins on the edge of your comfort zone and all ...).

Lesley Ramsay came down from Sydney to speak from the books of Acts on Speeches that Changed the World, namely Stephen’s speech in Acts 7 and Paul’s speech in Acts 17, and what they can teach us about evangelism. I had to go to the same seminar twice as MC, which was on social media and sharing the gospel. This was actually genuinely fascinating. Beth Webb is doing a Masters at Moore College and she covered unexpected things like what our bodies have to do with evangelism (body language as ~85% of communication anyone?). One of the main points I am still thinking on a few weeks later is how she pointed out that as human beings we are limited in time and space as to who we can interact with, and social media appears to allow us to transcend that and be everywhere all the time, but that as humans we don’t always do this well, and that we shouldn’t actually be worried about the fact that we are limited in who we can meaningfully interact with and simply fully engage there. She also talked about what community has to do with evangelism and how people often belong before they believe, which can be hard to do on social media, and how social media conversations often only harden people in their original position rather than move them. All things to think about. That might all sound like it was against social media, which it wasn’t, but essentially the conclusion was that social media is most effective at making a first contact with people, and beyond that you will have to do the face-to-face and community engagement.

Then on 5th November I went to training in Pastoral Care, run by a Chaplain from the Wesley Mission in Sydney. This was so so good. There were basic instructions and even role playing in how to have a pastoral conversation, which was just so helpful. One of the most beneficial things was how she stressed that pastoral care is not counselling. You don’t have to get the person anywhere. What you are doing is listening and caring, and you can leave it there, without feeling like you are responsible for solving the issue or moving the person to another place (which isn’t going to happen until they feel heard and cared for anyway). I think people hesitate over pastoral care and entering the dramas of others because they don’t know what to DO, so it was liberating to realise that you don’t actually have to DO anything. You can simply listen and show you care, then maybe pray (which is where the ‘doing’ comes in) and that’s all.

In other news, I have been going a little mad with native plants in my courtyard (I have now instituted a plant-buying moratorium and a period of frugal living, because I got a little carried away and went on some kind of spending spree a while back – the extra bank account for books turned into the extra bank account for plants, but Spring will do that to you). I now have a selection of paper daisies in pots in different colours. I love them because they flower so profusely and the flowers last so long (and possums don’t eat them). I also have a native iris, a trigger plant and a cottonhead plant, for some variation of foliage structure.

I am currently reading a collection of short stories by Wendell Berry, called That Distant Land, about the same community of people in the novels of Jayber Crow and Hannah Coulter. I am thoroughly enjoying it. I am a convert to Berry’s writing and his characters and his sense of community. I love those people like they’re family.

I’m also doing a music theory course online. In case you hadn’t noticed, I sort of dropped learning the guitar. But I think I started to get frustrated with it because I felt like I didn’t understand enough of what I was doing. Having only learnt a woodwind instrument, playing treble clef and doing no music theory, I did not get a good understanding of music as a whole (and the guitar was like starting again really because there is little overlap). So, I started at Grade 1 theory, which so far is like sucking eggs because I can actually read sheet music, but it has been a good refresher and will hopefully take me beyond what I know soon.

I have realised that I haven’t been on recreation leave at all this year, but only took the time off as personal leave back in August, so I am looking forward to having a holiday at some point (beyond the tour of the relatives at Christmas). The reality is that I had to take out a small loan to pay medical fees, which swallowed any holiday funds that may have existed, and once I knew I had to do that I just didn’t make any other plans, but I am hoping that by the second half of next year I can take a holiday (only I really need a new car, but I will get there eventually!).

The exciting thing is that they have given me a new hat at work, which is editor of the Anglican News, the newspaper of our Diocese. We are going to wind it back some and lower the bar of the one magnificent newspaper edition that came out earlier in the year to try to make it regular, but I am really excited about the opportunity and resurrecting some writing and editing work. I’m itching to get started but it’s been a little sidelined by an Ordination next weekend and meetings and documents we need to gather for professional standards matters.

That's most of the last month or so.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Reminding each other why it matters

I was messing about in youtube again the other day and discovered that Sara Groves eventually did post an official (pseudo) video to my favourite of her songs, Why it Matters, back in 2014. I first shared the lyrics of this one in 2007, then a youtube video someone put together in 2011, so I think it can come around again. It's basically a song telling us to remind each other of the gospel, so here is a five-year reminder.

I love it that she sings of our living, our thinking and creating, as our efforts of narrating about the beauty of The Beauty. (In another song she writes "this is grace, an invitation to be beautiful". That can be understood two ways I think - the grace of God washes away our sin and renders us beautiful in his eyes, through the work Jesus, but personally dispensing grace to others in our lives is also beautiful.)

Why It Matters 
by Sara Groves

Sit with me and tell me once again
Of the story that's been told us
Of the power that will hold us
Of the beauty, of the beauty
Why it matters

Speak to me until I understand
Why our thinking and creating
Why our efforts of narrating
About the beauty, of the beauty
Why it matters

Like a statue in the park
Of this war torn town
And it's protest of the darkness
And this chaos all around
With its beauty, how it matters
How it matters

Show me a love that never fails
Some compassion and attention
Midst confusion and dissension
Like small ramparts for the soul
How it matters

Like a single cup of water
How it matters

Sunday, October 09, 2016

On the therapeutic benefits and theological lessons of gardening

A photo posted by Alison Payne (@thisfoggyday) on

That is perhaps an overreaching blog post title. But Alistair recently shared this article from The Conversation on the therapeutic benefits of gardening, which I found fascinating – health, achievement, interpersonal skills, mental health, psychosocial functioning, existential purpose. You name it, gardening can benefit it.

For me gardening is also like having my own little sub-plot of a fallen world, as well as a living metaphor for sin. I can plant my plants or sow my seeds (I’ve tried growing some things from seed), and apply the water, but there are so many things beyond my control – the bug that got under the frost cloth and had a merry feast on my gardenia over winter, the fungus or mould that destroyed the silver falls, whatever it is that slowly killed the miniature roses (I think they got too wet and there was too much late coldness). Though, generally speaking, if you follow the instructions, things turn out well. It’s what the instructions are for. But then there’s the weeds! Oh, the weeds. They are very much like sin. Chickweed IS sin. Comes us everywhere. And you can’t possibly get all the tiny seedlings so you just aim for the big bits. But CS Lewis and Tim Keller and John Piper would be proud of me. To displace the chickweed, I am planting native groundcover flowers. Plants whose telos it is to be here. Plants that are the true meaning and purpose of gardens in Canberra. Leaving bare soil in a garden is like leaving your head empty for the devil to dance in. What is needed is that the soil is filled up with good and proper things. So I am ousting the weeds with native groundcovers. No more making mud pies, what I truly want is beds of flowers (and a holiday at the sea)!

Native plants also tend to thrive and have more to offer to local wildlife. They do better at serving and encouraging the good creatures around them. Make of that what you will.

(And since the miniature roses gave up the ghost I am replacing those with native everlasting daisies too. My natural resources degree has kicked in my environmental righteousness. Plus, while I particularly loved that yellow rose – I am sad about that one – roses in pots look like nothing in pots for months of the year, so I want less deciduous things.)

Saturday, October 01, 2016

How Great Thou Art - for gypsy hipsters

I really should write a thing, but for today here is a song. How Great Thou Art has always been a favourite, and I was humming away the other day so went looking for a good youtube. I started this one and thought, nope, that is not my sort of manly voice, but I let it run to the chorus and it got better. I love what the cello and double bass are doing (and the Gilbert-Blythe-esque cello player). The video is a little contrived, in a let’s-dress-up-like-peasant-hipsters-and-frolic-in-the-woods sort of way, but I kinda like it all the same (the irony is that they've left the 'When through the woods and forest glades I wander' verse out). If I get run over by a bus, you all have to sing this at my funeral – just so you know.

(I actually grew up singing the 'O Mighty God' version, which is quite different. It's another one of those hymns with many puzzling variations.)


Friday, September 23, 2016

A Friday Funny

You perhaps have to be a certain type of person to even appreciate this comic, but I thought it was one of the most hilarious things I've seen on the internet in a long time.

I have probably posted enough pictures of flowers here to reveal which type I actually am. At times I despair of my own lack of ambition, but I heartily concur with Monet who apparently said "I must have flowers, always, and always", and with that, I must have time for the flowers. Though I don't necessarily need cultivated flowers. Wild and untamed landscapes will do nicely.

I am still reading Tim Keller's devotions on the Psalms every morning on the bus, and recently it was Psalm 104, which tugs at my delight. Restoring and renewing the created world is something that moves me. (I know it doesn't move other people. I have met those people.)

I also need time for just being at home and reading and pondering and listening to music and inspecting the garden.

But for the Type As: you go you flower smelling champions! (I love that!) All power and achievement to you.

(I reserve my Type A-ness for silent frustration with people who just stand on and block escalators. There are no flowers to smell in shopping malls, especially when I am on a half hour lunch break. Keep moving or keep left people!)

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Looking for contentment

Contentment can be a word you get very accustomed to hearing as a single person. So I found this article on what precisely it is helpful.

(Then I got to thinking that the very fact that we more often charge one group of people in a particular set circumstances, namely the never married singles, with the command to be content, could perhaps indicate that we've all misunderstood it - because surely if married folks are considered more likely to be, or actually are more, content, based on being in the circumstance of being married, then perhaps that would mean they haven't learnt the secret of biblical contentment either. I'm not denying that single people can be discontent, very discontent, but just that married people shouldn't be content because they are married (or assumed in sermons to be more content because they are married) either, and that we are perhaps not doing the right thing, or the helpful thing, when we talk about contentment in connection with any particular set of circumstances (when the point Paul makes is that it's independent of circumstances!).)

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Back on the road

A photo posted by Alison Payne (@thisfoggyday) on

You could rename this blog ‘reasons why Ali is tired right now’ of late. But, boy, did the first two weeks back at work bore the weariness right into me. In them there were two extra evening meetings that went late, a farewell dinner for a colleague of sorts, my turn to cook dinner for 14 bible in my bible study group (plus visiting missionaries) and then it all culminated in our annual Diocesan Synod, which involves a weekend away in Goulburn staging a conference for over 300 people (it runs Friday afternoon to Sunday lunch time – if you’re lucky), where apart from going back to the motel to sleep you’re working. Then on the Monday just gone after Synod I had to drive to Sydney and back for a follow-up appointment with the surgeon. Soooo tired.

(I had to stop several times on the way back from Sydney to stay awake, which is when I snapped the picture of Lake George above with water in it.)

But everything went well. It was the third session of the three-year cycle of Synod, which is not so hectic, and it ran smoothly. The biggest challenge for me is our Chancellor’s handwriting. He gives me answers to questions scratched out on pieces of paper and it’s my job to decipher his microscopic cursive and type them to go up on the screen. He also happens to be a Supreme Court Judge and funnily enough I used to edit his court judgment reports in my previous job, so life comes around and back at you in strange ways.

The appointment with the surgeon went well and all things were benign (I knew I would have heard before now if they weren’t but it was nice to have that confirmed). I have a talent crush. The procedure I had to undergo is considered ‘technically challenging’ and not to be undertaken by an inexperienced surgeon. Further, the FDA in the States issued a warning against it, prompted by one particularly litigious case, which is why they don’t do it in Canberra, but this surgeon has developed a technique to address the warning (even though he considers the risk in itself to be overrated), which he applied to me given my somewhat abnormal second ultrasound. I’m in awe of what he was able to do and how he was able to do it. And I have bigger, messier evidence from a GP removing a BCC. Even the anaesthetic nurse told me, as I waited in the little room before you go into the actual theatre, that ‘he’s really good – he’s the best in NSW’, which was excellent to hear about two minutes before I was unconscious.

I’ve also called it that he is one of the nicest men on earth. He was just so kind to me, both in the initial appointment and then before the surgery, when he took my hand between both of his and apologised for the long wait and explained to me that I was young (told you he was a nice fellow!) and it was unlikely but that he’d do his fancy thing to guard against spreading any cancer. Then he came to see me before 8 am the next morning even though he delivered his last patient to recovery after 11 pm the previous night (I gather that myself and the patient before me took a bit longer than expected). The consultant anaesthetist, who was also a very nice man, came to see me even earlier the next morning as well. I take my hat off to these people who consider 15 hours of complicated surgery or life-risking anaesthesia all in a day’s work, and manage to be nice about it. I wanted to give the surgeon something as a token of thanks, and figured he probably didn’t need anything money could buy, so I made him some crocheted wrist-warmers, which I handed over with some embarrassment at the end of my follow-up appt, thinking he might find them rather pathetic and probably received expensive gifts from rich people all the time, then I made a slightly awkward exit. The receptionist looked at the screen and told me there was no charge for my appt so I went on my way in surprise, then as I hit the lifts my phone is ringing and it’s the doctor’s rooms and I’m thinking they are probably calling me to go back to pay, but it’s the surgeon himself and he’s calling to thank me for the card and the wrist warmers and saying ‘and you made these yourself?’ and going on about how much he appreciates them and thanking me several times (it was a strange reversal that rendered me kind of speechless) and wishing me a safe trip home ... And that is why I've decided he’s one of the nicest men on earth. I'm very thankful to God for the skill he gave the surgeon and for happening upon his name, when I really had no idea.

Meanwhile I’ve come home with four pages of coloured photos of what happened to my insides, which, having screwed my face up at them sufficiently, I think I am just going to hide in the filing cabinet.

In other news, I was being optimistic about the future, and I ordered my first ever pair of compression shorts for running. I wondered whether they’d make any difference to some of my postural and hip flexor issues, and after speaking to a Bishop who was once a physiotherapist and athlete who told me he was a fan that was all the justification I needed to spend the money, so I now have some super-duper running gear, which I have never owned even though I’ve been at it for years. But I wouldn’t be seen dead running in just lycra skins (I’ve seen what that looks like that from behind) so I have ones with a nice little skirt over the top - a running skort if you will. My new t-shirt even matches. I’ve now just got to make a concerted effort to get myself back to somewhere near where I was before I tore my calf muscle last year and then had the surgery etc. I’m writing this here as extra motivation. But first I just need a good sleep-in.

I didn’t do nearly as much reading in the time off as I thought I might, but hopefully I will come back to that.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The return of the crochet rug

I’m enjoying the time I’m having at home to recover I must say. At times I have felt like a sook for not being at work, but the reality is that while I can get out and about, and do some things within reason, an 8am to 6pm day at work without the capacity for a nap in the middle would wipe me out at this point, and I’m going to have to start trying to get up earlier if I am going to manage the return to work next week.

One thing I have done in my time off is finish a crochet rug that’s taken almost three years. I used to live in Sydney near King St Newtown, one of Sydney’s more famous streets, and on it was a Vinnies (St Vincent de Paul charity shop) and one day I went in and found two bags of a peppercorn-coloured Morris and Sons Woollahra yarn going for $15 total ($1 a ball) when it is normally $10.95 per ball. So of course I bought it. Then my lovely friend Cath and family gave me a voucher for the Morris and Sons shop (which was also on King St) for my birthday that year, with which I bought some extra balls and the Cranberry yarn to finish it off. So the idea was born for this, named the King St Rug (the irony is that it is not nearly eccentric enough for King St, being probably the most “conservative” rug I have made, where a true loud and clashing granny rug would be more in vogue). I think I started it while I still lived in Sydney, then moved interstate and got a new job and continued freelance work and then took up youth group and so on and so it has languished away. For all it is supposedly a luxury yarn (85% wool, 10% silk, 5% cashmere), I did not find it easy to work with – it sort of gripped the hook and the thickness was not even (it's not spun very much, if that makes sense) and it also breaks quite easily – and without any colour change milestones I ran out of momentum at times. But with this time off I decided to slog through the last seven or so balls of yarn to finish it. Then I had to grit my teeth and weave in all the ends, which is always a test of my capacity to finish what I started and execute my own ideas. But here, finally, it is.

I've been a bit flabbergasted with the Instagram and Facebook response given it's so simple, so I'll include that picture, plus the unfiltered versions.

A photo posted by Alison Payne (@thisfoggyday) on

Friday, August 19, 2016

John Cleese and the Sehnsucht in music and art

I do believe John Cleese has felt the Sehnsucht. When asked by Margaret Throsby of ABC Classic FM why Mascagni’s Easter Hymn from Cavalleria Rusticana made him cry he says “it’s almost as though there’s a promise of something better”. Then I love it when he says 'the definition of great art for me isn’t a verbal one, it’s does it really touch something in you that you can’t quite explain'. Yes. Boo to all the art bollocks.

Mascagni’s Easter Hymn doesn’t really do it for me, but the Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana does – from 1.35 mins on in that youtube – le sigh. Or Rachmaninov’s Vespers, for something more similar to Easter Hymn.

I listened to the whole of the interview with John Cleese here and quite enjoyed it. He answers such questions as 'are you ever incandescently happy' (from 49.35 minutes on) which he answers along the lines of keeping your pleasures simple etc.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The oldest nephew

This poor child's life is never going to be the same again, after a diagnosis of Type 1 Diabetes, but the other afternoon he came over and played in my little courtyard with my pegs and old smurfs.

How I love this boy - he can be challenging at times, but he's right up under my skin. When he loves a thing, he really loves a thing.

I'm going to learn how to do the insulin calculations and injections as back-up - yikes!

Latest song/video obsession

For reasons I might struggle to articulate I keep wanting to listen to and watch this video clip from The Lumineers. It's no Bob Dylan, but some of the lyrics remind me of what (little) I know of him. I particularly like this bit: 'But I've read this script and the costume fits, so I'll play my part.'


Saturday, August 13, 2016

The nurturing way of life - Wendell Berry

The Gospel Coalition just happened to publish an article on Wendell Berry the other day. It's mainly directed at revitalising pastors, but there's something in it for all of us on this thing called the 'nurturing way of life', which includes memory, discipline, hope and affection. I like it. (Which doesn't mean I endorse every theological view of WB, or that anyone else has to either to appreciate the good things. I'd like to read some of his non-fiction - though I am also with Russell Moore that theologians need to read fiction.)

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The course of an ordinary married life

I did also finish The Course of Love, by Alain de Botton recently. This is a story of ordinary married life. I didn’t read it because I specifically wanted to read a story of ordinary married life,  but rather because Alain de Botton is one of those authors, who, when he has a new book out, I will generally investigate. (Though if a Christian fellow ever were to take the initiative and ask me out, unlikely as I now perceive that to be, I’d need all the help I can get, because history would indicate that I am inept.) But I feel like it was a useful book to have read, and I’d actually recommend that everybody read it. The fact that it is written primarily from the male perspective on day-to-day relationships also made it interesting to me. It is a novel, containing the narrative of one married couple, but is also interspersed with italicised philosophical/psychological musings on what it means to be in relationships and raise children ...

I didn’t underline anything as I read, though much of it was thought-provoking, so now I am left flicking for a good bit, but here is something from the main characters middle-of-the-night ponderings (and there have been a lot of interviews with the author and articles online if anyone cares to look):
At this point, he is beyond self-pity, the shallow belief that what has happened to him is rare or undeserved. He has lost faith in his own innocence and uniqueness. This isn’t a midlife crisis; it’s more that he is finally, some thirty years too late, leaving adolescence behind.

He sees he is a man with an exaggerated longing for Romantic love who nevertheless understands little about kindness and even less about communication. He is someone afraid of openly striving for happiness who takes shelter in a stance of pre-emptive disappointment and cynicism.

So this is what it is to be a failure. The chief characteristic may be silence: the phone doesn’t ring, he isn’t asked out, nothing new happens. For most of his adult life he has conceived of failure in the form of a spectacular catastrophe, only to recognize, at last, that it has in fact crept up on him imperceptibly, through cowardly inaction.

Yet, surprisingly, it’s OK. One gets used to everything, even humiliation. The apparently unendurable has a habit of coming to seem, eventually, not so bad.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The chance you had - more from Wendell Berry

A photo posted by Alison Payne (@thisfoggyday) on

I am currently reading Hannah Coulter, by Wendell Berry, which is a beautiful novel. There is so much worthy material in it, but I liked this quote. I have to admit, that my recent surgery could lead me to ask all sorts of questions and take a good many looks sideways at my life in comparison to a large proportion of the women in my church (many of whom have recently been, or soon will go, to hospital and come home with a baby), but you can’t, not truly and not with any benefit, and I am very thankful for how the recent events turned out for me, given that they had to and did happen ... 'Those are the right instructions.'
... After they were gone, I was mourning over them to Nathan. I said, “I just wanted them to have a better chance than I had”.

Nathan said, “Don’t complain about the chance you had”, in the same way exactly that he used to tell the boys, “Don’t cuss the weather”. Sometimes you can say dreadful things without knowing it. Nathan understood this better than I did.

Like several of his one-sentence conversations, this one stuck in my mind and finally changed it. The change came to late, maybe, but it turned my mind inside out like a sock.

Was I sorry that I had known my parents and Grandmam and Ora Finley and the Catletts and the Feltners, and that I had married Virgil and come to live in Port William, and that I had lived on after Virgil’s death to marry Nathan and come to our place to raise our family and live among the Coulters and the rest of our membership?

Well, that was the chance I had.

And so Nathan required me to think a thought that has stayed with me a long time and has traveled a long way. It passed through everything I know and changed it all. The chance you had is the life you’ve got. You can make complaints about what people, including you, make of their lives after they have got them, and about what people make of other people’s lives, even about your children being gone, but you mustn’t wish for another life. You mustn’t want to be somebody else. What you must do is this: “Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks.” I am not all the way capable of so much, but those are the right instructions.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Charlotte Bronte's poem on idolatry

It struck me later that Friday's poem is not unlike the second poem I posted here, which was way back in 2007 so I'll post it again. Charlotte Brontë is more dramatic (hello Brontë sisters!), and the point of it is not so much that she had made an idol of her love (though the response for that was certainly the same), but that God will forgive that fault, which is also good.

(Now I am just going to lie on the couch after a weekend of family trauma and comings and goings.)

He Saw My Heart's Woe
Charlotte Brontë

He saw my heart's woe, discovered my soul's anguish,
How in fever, in thirst, in atrophy it pined;
Knew he could heal, yet looked and let it languish,
To it's moans spirit-deaf, to its pangs spirit-blind.

But once a year he heard a whisper low and dreary
Appealing for aid, entreating some reply;
Only when sick, soul-worn, and torture weary,
Breathed I that prayer, heaved I that sigh.

He was mute as is the grave, he stood stirless as a tower;
At last I looked up, and saw I prayed to stone:
I asked help of that which to help had no power,
I sought love where love was utterly unknown.

Idolater I kneeled to an idol cut in rock!
I might have slashed my flesh and drawn my heart's best blood:
The Granite God had felt no tenderness, no shock;
My Baal had not seen nor heard nor understood.

In dark remorse I rose; I rose in darker shame;
Self-condemned I withdrew to an exile from my kind;
A solitude I sought where mortal never came,
Hoping in its wilds forgetfulness to find.

Now, Heaven, heal the wound which I still deeply feel;
The glorious hosts look not in scorn on our poor race;
Thy King eternal doth no iron judgment deal
On suffering worms who seek forgiveness, comfort, grace.

He gave our hearts to love: He will not Love despise,
E'en if the gift be lost, as mine was long ago;
He will forgive the fault, will bid the offender rise,
Wash out with dews of bliss the fiery brand of woe;

And give a sheltered place beneath the unsullied throne,
Whence the soul redeemed may mark Time's fleeting course round earth;
And know its trials overpast, its sufferings gone,
And feel the peril past of Death's immortal birth.

Charlotte Brontë

Saturday, August 06, 2016

A new book of poetry, by Joy Davidman

I am back. I’m actually on the end of a stint in a hospital in Sydney last week, involving over four hours of surgery, and I now have another three weeks off work. I ask myself why I hesitate to share on that. I don’t mean to be in any way ungenerous in not sharing, with those of you dear readers that I know and who would only care and personally comment, I’m just reluctant to be an internet curiosity for those who might read and leave no indication of having read. It was all quite a sudden development and I am still coming to good terms with it, but am glad it is now over and very thankful to God that everything went very well (there was a vomiting incident in the night on Tuesday and ongoing nausea on Wednesday morning, but that soon passed). The surgeon and anaesthetist were exceptionally kind and competent, and I am so pleased to have found and been cared for by them. Unfortunately I came home from Sydney to another medical emergency, with my nephew currently in hospital, and last night I actually had my little nieces here, so it’s drama central, but all will settle down.

For now, I think it’s time for a poem. I also had a birthday recently and with a voucher to spend I stumbled upon this book of poetry by Joy Davidman, wife of CS Lewis, including sonnets she wrote to him. I thought this one was interesting. Obviously the problem of love as idolatry was a consideration long ago, as even Christina Rossetti would attest. There is a reference in Stanza 3 to 1 Kings 18:25-29. (I’ll find one that’s not about love soon! - I thought I would settle down on the couch to chill and read more of it last night and ended up playing Memory and feeding and distracting two small girls, while their brother had to be transferred from one hospital to another ...)


Why, you may call the thing idolatry
And tell no lie; for I have seen you shine
Brighter than any son of man should be;
And trembled, and half-dreamed you were divine,

And knelt in adoration; willfully
I bring my pleasant gifts to the wrong shrine,
And little joy there is of it for me;
You are not God, and neither are you mine.

The pagan priesthood, honouring their Baal,
Slashed themselves till they bled, and so have I,
Yet neither they nor I to much avail;
The fire was out, and vacant was the sky.

Sir, you may correct me with your rod.
I have loved you better than I loved my God.

Joy Davidman
February 14, 1953

Saturday, July 23, 2016

The discovered beauty of flowers

This week I finished reading Alain de Botton's The Course of Love, which is a book I'd suggest everybody read, which I might come back to later. For now though, I liked this little reference to the beauty of flowers. I quoted some of it on instagram, which perhaps needed a little more context, but here it is.

He becomes aware, for the first time in his life, of the beauty of flowers. He remembers harbouring a near-hatred of them as an adolescent. It seemed absurd that anyone should take joy in something so small and so temporary when there were surely greater, more permanent things on which to pin ambitions. He himself wanted glory and intensity. To be detained by a flower was a symbol of a dangerous resignation. Now he is beginning to get the point. The love of flowers is a consequence of modesty and an accommodation with disappointment. Some things need to go permanently wrong before we can start to admire the stem of a rose or the petals of a bluebell. But once we realize that the larger dreams are always compromised in some way, with what gratitude we may turn to these miniscule islands of serene perfection and delight.

~Alain de Botton, The Course of Love

Monday, June 27, 2016

Life as I currently know it

So, I’m pooped. At the risk of entering into the whole "I’m busy" carry-on, life seems to have been a little overly filled-up lately (and I don't like it that way!). I limped into the recent long weekend after a couple of weeks that went something like this: Tuesday night bible study, Wednesday night meeting of a committee I am on, Thursday night meeting after work that went till 9 pm, Friday night book club (that I felt obliged to attend since I chose the book), Saturday niece’s birthday and I stayed on overnight to baby sit, Sunday birthday breakfast and then church etc, Monday night cooking dinner for the 12 people in my bible study (an absolute kitchen disaster as a I didn’t have a big enough pot so ended up with saucepans and pans all over the place and a huge mess), Tuesday night go to bible study and feed the food to the people, Wednesday night pilates after work then spend a long time cleaning up the kitchen disaster, Thursday raging sore throat so I decided to take the Friday off also as time-in-lieu and was basically sick all long weekend with worst cold in a long time with horrible nightly cough, Tuesday dropped car in before work for service and collected it after work, skipped bible study because of horrible cold and on Wednesday had to get up and drive to Sydney and back to see a medical specialist (was awake half the night coughing, coughed half the way to Sydney, arrived and found nearest free park to hospital (because they’d warned me specialist might run late and not to limit parking), walked to hospital, ate a snack in hospital cafeteria, spent an hour waiting in doctor’s rooms, had appt and then drove home again), Thursday Mum arrived from Brisbane to stay at my sister’s house so I went for dinner, Friday night had to just go home and crash, Saturday spent most of day hanging around at sister’s with Mum, Sunday church twice, then followed another week which just seemed to be busy (and I had some extra pressure on it because I tried to catch up with an old friend for lunch Monday, then another friend Tuesday, meaning I had hours at work to make up, and was trying to go to my sister’s some nights to see Mum around bible study, pilates etc), then on Saturday just gone had a meeting for the committee above where we actually wrote some material, collected Mum on way home from my sister and her family in the city and she came to my place, had my Aunt and Uncle over for dinner, Sunday did a few things with Mum (the freezing weather!) then went to church then to Aunt and Uncle’s for dinner and now it’s Monday again and I want another weekend already.

But it has been mostly fine (except that cough!!) and I have been very thankful for such things as the cancellation that got me in to Sydney earlier for an appointment and the specialist who talked to me for 40 minutes, charged me less than the one I saw in Canberra, and de-escalated that scenario (what is the internet for if not to research your medical problems and be informed of better treatment options!). I am now going to go to Sydney to deal with it which is going to be tricky, but I feel so much better about it.

I have actually seen three different sorts of medical specialists recently. They are all for random and unconnected problems (which I didn't necessarily notice myself), there is no cause for one issue, none of the risk factors present for another, but one thing they share in common is a known link to emotional stress, so it has been a realisation to me that I need to manage that. I don’t consider myself a stressed person, and have been told I am ‘easy-going’ more often than not, but there is one situation that has cause me stress over a long period of time, which I have largely internalised.

I’ve started re-reading The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey again, because that is a book that needs revisiting, and pulled out Growing Yourself Up, by Jenny Brown, and others. Tim Keller's devotional on the Psalms has been helping me along lately. Here is an example:

On my sickly long weekend I did manage to paint more furniture. Here is the before and after of a stool I got at a garage sale for $5. The top is actually quite warped, but it will still hold a cup of coffee upright, and the world wants a small fortune for little tables/stools at the moment.

The local Handmade shop was actually selling off all their shop fittings in preparations for relocating last week and I bought a great little folding table for $5 and also bought their stick vacuum for $40. I’ve wanted a Dyson stick vacuum for a long time, but you know, $600, so I thought I’d try this one, which is an Electrolux. It’s my new best friend. You just keep it charged somewhere and then can pull it out and suck up little bits here and there, like the relentless fluff on the bathroom floor. For some reason I dread vacuuming, but it is really not that bad, nor does it take that long, when you actually get it out and do it. But this will prolong the times between needing to drag the real vacuum.

I did a little splurge on the book buying front recently and bought The Course of Love, because I enjoy reading Alain de Botton and it sounds interesting, and also Hannah Coulter, because I loved Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry, and this is about the same community (and here is Russell Moore writing on why you should read Hannah Coulter, and good fiction), so I am looking forward to that.

And now this post is longer than it should be.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Something for Sunday

Pinching this from elsewhere. I'm not entirely convinced of the use of the word ""fav'rites" (I know the nuance of language changes over time, but I'd say that's unhelpful) but let's just go with the sentiment. I believe it may have been written by Dr Isaac Watts.

A photo posted by Andrew Peterson (@andrewpetersonmusic) on

Sunday, June 05, 2016

The theoretical possibility of a better life

We had a ponder-worthy sermon on Job this evening, and that is what I am going to do later, and I might come back to it here, but for now, I just wanted to post some more Wendell Berry. I have finished Jayber Crow, and loved it. I liked this portion, and the realisation that if you are always looking for a better place too be, you could also always be a better person where you are:
Looking back now, after so long a time, the hardest knowledge I have is of the people I have known who have been most lonely: Troy Chatham and Cecelia Overhold, the one made lonely by ambition, the other by anger, and both by pride clambering upward over its rubble.  
The problem, you see, is that Cecelia had some reason on her side; she had an argument. I don’t think she could be proved right; on the other hand, you can’t prove her wrong. Theoretically, there is always a better place for a person to live, better work to do, a better spouse to wed, better friends to have. But then this person must meet herself coming back: Theoretically, there always is a better inhabitant of this place, a better member of this community, a better worker, spouse, and friend than she is. This surely describes one of the circles of Hell, and who hasn’t traveled around it a time or two?

I have got to the age now where I can see how short a time we have to be here. And when I think about it, it can seem strange beyond telling that this particular bunch of us should be here on this little patch of ground in this little patch of time, and I can think of the other times and places I might have lived, the other kinds of man I might have been. But there is something else. There are moments when the heart is generous, and then it knows that for better or worse our lives are woven together here, one with one another and with the place and all the living things.
I also liked these parts. (There's so much to quote in the book - one might not agree with all of the theology it puts forward, but if that stops a person reading a truly good novel, then I am sorry for them.)
I told nobody. Nobody knew of it but me. That alone was a revelation. I had always made it a rule of thumb that there were no real secrets in Port William, but now I knew that this was not so. It was the secrets between people that got out. The secrets that people knew alone were the ones that were kept, the knowledge too painful or too dear to speak of. If so urging a thing as I now knew was known only to me, then what must other people know that they had never told? I felt a strange new respect for the heads I barbered. I knew that the dead carried with them out of this world things they could not give away.
And later:
People generally suppose that they don’t understand one another very well, and that is true; they don’t. But some things they communicate easily and fully. Anger and contempt and hatred leap from one heart to another like fire in dry grass. The revelations of love are never complete or clear, not in this world. Love is slow and accumulating, and no matter how large or high it grows, it falls short. Love comprehends the world, though we don’t comprehend it. But hate comes off in slices, clear and whole – self-explanatory, you might say ...

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Some morsels from Wendell Berry

I am currently reading Jayber Crow, by Wendell Berry. This is actually the book I inflicted on my whole book club, who probably think it's the slowest book in the universe. But as I read, it is getting more and more beautiful. Here're some bits:
If you could do it, I suppose, it would be a good idea to live your life in a straight line - starting, say, in the Dark Wood of Error, and proceeding by logical steps through Hell and Purgatory and into Heaven. Or you could take the King's Highway past the appropriately named dangers, toils, and snares, and finally cross the River of Death and enter the Celestial City. But that is not the way I have done it, so far. I am a pilgrim, but my pilgrimage has been wandering and unmarked. Often what has looked like a straight line to me has been a circling or a doubling back. I have been in the Dark Wood of Error any number of times. I have known something of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, but not always in that order. The names of many snares and dangers have been made known to me, but I have seen them only in looking back. Often I have not known where I was going until I was already there. I have had my share of desires and goals, but my life has come to me or I have gone to it mainly by way of mistakes and surprises. Often I have received better than I deserved. Often my fairest hopes have rested on bad mistakes. I am an ignorant pilgrim, crossing a dark valley. And yet for a long time, looking back, I have been unable to shake off the feeling that I have been led – make of that what you will.
And this:
I became a sort of garden fanatic, and I am not over it yet. You can take a few seed peas, dry and dead, and sow them in a little furrow, and they will sprout into a row of pea vines and bear more peas – it may not be a miracle, but that is a matter of opinion.
And this:
I thought that some of the hymns bespoke the true religion of the place. The people didn't really want to be saints of self-deprivation and hatred of the world. They knew that the world would sooner or later deprive them of all it had given them, but still they liked it. What they came together for was to acknowledge, just by coming, their losses and failures and sorrows, their need for comfort, their faith always needing to be greater, their wish (in spite of all words and acts to the contrary) to love one another and to forgive and be forgiven, their need for one another's help and company and divine gifts, their hope (and experience) of love surpassing death, their gratitude.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Why I don't keep pets - maybe

This is a long post about domestic pets. I started it last week, realised it was too long and ran out of time, so it sat. I had meant to come back and finish and edit it to write it more nicely. That became a reminder that it takes a long time to compose posts nicely. I don’t actually know now how I used to find that time. So here it is just as it was purged out on to the page.

When my sister and her family moved down to Canberra at the end of last year, they told my niece that if she left her guinea pigs in Queensland then she could have a rabbit in Canberra (you are not allowed to keep rabbits in Queensland, because they are a feral pest, which is a good principle but it should also be applied to cats). So, they move down south and she gets a rabbit. They call it Charlotte. Charlotte is a nice enough but not at all friendly rabbit, so then they get a another rabbit, who my niece calls Sophia. Sophia is an adorable snuggly little rabbit. Unfortunately two rabbits of the same sex turns out to be a really bad idea. Charlotte was so aggressive to poor little Sophia that they ended up having to give Charlotte away. So it’s down to just Sophia the sweetie. Charlotte had actually turned into a free range rabbit, because she was a bit wild and couldn’t be in the cage with Sophia, and there was never a problem with this arrangement. Sophia was always locked up at night, though allowed to roam the yard at times during the day. Except for one night the other week when she was in her little burrowing spot under the bushes so they left her there overnight. My sister went out first thing in the morning to get her and discovered a large cat actually in Sophia’s cage. Unfortunately the cat had also just attacked and killed poor little Sophia over near the bushes.

We are all very cut up about this. There was something very endearing about Sophia. Even the two-year-old nephew took to this rabbit when he was up visiting. Here is the evidence.

After Sophia's demise I was trying to find a card during lunch time that Friday for my niece and found this card of a little rabbit that looked just like Sophia, but it also looked like the rabbit was crying, so I cried in MYER like some kind of fool and couldn’t buy it (but how sad is that card!). I was sick with a cold and overtired on Friday in any case and would have cried at just about anything but back at work one of my colleagues bought me chocolate and it was a little bit ridiculous.

But such things are hard to take. When I was a kid we had some Chinese silky bantams as pets. They used to roam our yard and were generally locked up at night. Mine was called Chloe and my sister’s was Henrietta. One night we were careless and it seems that both a gate was left open and the chicken cage wasn’t locked, such that the chickens were out early in the morning and a dog happened to come by and get Henrietta. I was so distressed about this that I tied one side gate, which was a little less certain when it was locked, up with so many knots of rope that no-one could ever be bothered to use it again. And every night before I went to bed I would terrorise myself by going out and running around the side to check that the gate (which was all tied up with rope) was still locked and the cage was locked. One night my Aunt was babysitting and while I was out on my chicken run in the dark she locked the back door, so I came flying back around and had a panic on the back verandah because I couldn’t get back in (we lived in an outer suburb of a country town, on a large block with a small house on it). The trauma I put myself through every night so that nothing got our chickens!

Then years later when I was at uni I had a pet budgie, called Wembly. Wembly was my little friend who used to follow me around the tiny shearer’s hut that I lived in and do quirky things. Eventually I got another budgie called Charlotte because I felt sorry for Wembly being on his lonesome during the day. I took Wembly and Charlotte home for the holidays and I had told my sister not to take the cage outside, but for some reason, one day while I was out somewhere, she took the cage outside. Then she thought she’d change their bath water, but while she took the bath away she left the door open, outside. Wembly got out. So I came home and my budgie was out of his cage and flying about the neighbourhood. I was trying desperately to call him back and coax him back to Charlotte. He flew across the road and landed low in a bush, and I though that was my chance and was hurrying across the road when a cat suddenly jumped up and swiped him out of the bush. And that was the end of Wembly. I cried and cried.

I also, while at uni, got my WIRES licence, after a weekend of training, and used to take phone calls and go to the rescue of injured wildlife. I enjoyed this, but I buried a lot of wildlife. For years I used to pull over every time I came across an animal that had been hit by a car and check it’s pouch (because most drivers don’t, so pouch young are left to die a slow and painful death). The problem was that unless it was a very recent roadkill in a lot of cases the pouch young had been drinking putrefying milk, so they’d get sick and die about four days later in any case, after all your efforts to get up during the night and feed them etc. Then I took up a research position in far north Queensland, which involved trapping wild bettongs, possums and rock-wallabies. It was beyond manageable but I used to set 120 traps a night, on two different grids, and spend hours and hours clearing them and weighing, measuring and tagging what was in them. I did not like feeling so responsible for so many animals in traps. One night around midnight a tropical storm came through. The black soil up there can turn into a treacherous bog rapidly and I didn’t want to drive out and leave animals in traps in case I couldn’t get back in again the next day (and it’s not nice being an animal in a trap in a storm) so I left my volunteers in the car (because they were slow and I could get around the traps faster without them), and went racing around the bush in the thunder and lightening of a tropical storm at midnight letting animals out of traps. There was also the odd pouch young tragedy.

Start to care about and feel responsible for individual wild animals and that gets overwhelming. I haven’t had a pet since the budgies and I don’t stop very often anymore to check roadkill pouches. There’s something about that that now seems too hard. I'm conscious that if I were to get a pet I would get very attached to it and it would become a kind of emotional burden. So I don’t let myself have one. I know I am not living as a fan of CS Lewis in this, when he writes in The Four Loves:
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.
I am also a hypocrite. In the card I did buy and give to my devastated niece I wrote something along the lines of ‘loving things can hurt a lot when something happens to them, but it is always worth loving things because it makes life more beautiful and rich, so I hope you keep loving bunnies’. Ahem.

The good news is there is now a new rabbit. And I wants it. I was looking at rabbits online with my sister and getting rather besotted. They are seriously cute. The new rabbit, who is going to live indoors, will follow you around the house, and snuggle in your lap. These are very bad photos of me, and it’s not the carefully curated public image I was aiming for (it was a very bad hair moment, the pic in the middle is taken while I was talking, and in the others I am slouching on the floor and frowning while watching the Lion King and unbeknownst to me my brother-in-law was apparently killing himself laughing at my facial expressions – I get a little over-involved in movies), but this is Marshmallow (my sister did the photo arrangement, and I don't know how to undo it). I’m now pondering whether it’s at all practical to have a rabbit in my house.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Human life's mystery

Yesterday I went to Berrima for the day with a friend, to catch up with other friends from Sydney, and found this lovely volume in Berkelouw's book barn. There are poems within it I've never before read, which is always a delight from a poet one appreciates. I like this one below. I have added it to the "Sehnsucht poems" collection.

A photo posted by Alison Payne (@thisfoggyday) on

By Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861)


We sow the glebe, we reap the corn,
   We build the house where we may rest,
And then, at moments, suddenly,
We look up to the great wide sky,
Inquiring wherefore we were born…
   For earnest, or for jest?


The senses folding thick and dark
   About the stifled soul within,
We guess diviner things beyond,
And yearn to them with yearning fond;
We strike out blindly to a mark
   Believed in, but not seen.


We vibrate to the pant and thrill
   Wherewith Eternity has curled
In serpent-twine about God’s seat;
While, freshening upward to His feet,
In gradual growth His full-leaved will
   Expands from world to world.


And, in the tumult and excess
   Of act and passion under sun,
We sometimes hear—oh, soft and far,
As silver star did touch with star,
The kiss of Peace and Righteousness
    Through all things that are done.


God keeps His holy mysteries
   Just on the outside of man’s dream.
In diapason slow, we think
To hear their pinions rise and sink,
While they float pure beneath His eyes,
   Like swans adown a stream.


Abstractions, are they, from the forms
   Of His great beauty?—exaltations
From His great glory?—strong previsions
Of what we shall be?—intuitions
Of what we are—in calms and storms,
   Beyond our peace and passions?


Things nameless! which, in passing so,
   Do stroke us with a subtle grace.
We say, ‘Who passes?’—they are dumb.
We cannot see them go or come:
Their touches fall soft—cold—as snow
    Upon a blind man’s face.


Yet, touching so, they draw above
   Our common thoughts to Heaven’s unknown,
Our daily joy and pain advance
To a divine significance,—
Our human love—O mortal love,
   That light is not its own!


And sometimes, horror chills our blood
   To be so near such mystic Things,
And we wrap round us, for defence,
Our purple manners, moods of sense—
As angels, from the face of God,
   Stand hidden in their wings.


And, sometimes, through life’s heavy swound
   We grope for them!—with strangled breath
We stretch our hands abroad and try
To reach them in our agony,—
And widen, so, the broad life-wound
   Which soon is large enough for death.