Monthly Archives: October 2013

Blessings between Saturdays

In between the Saturdays of the wedding rehearsal and the wedding, I went down to the place, between the trees, where we walked to mark the path to enter the sacred space. I sat at the picnic table and ate a pie from the local bakery. I was joined by three magpies. Two were fairly young and the third was standing at a distance from the younger ones. One of the younger ones was full of courage, bounded up and literally stood a few centimetres from my hand on top of the table, the other sang sweetly at my feet, while the third one looked on. I couldn’t shoo them away, they refused to budge. So I asked them what they were doing there … And they asked me the same.

I had gone there, to be in the space, alone, to prepare for the next Saturday. On that day I won’t be there alone. I will be in the company of family and friends – all witnesses to the marriage of our youngest daughter. I wanted to see what was on the horizon, in the foreground, what the backdrop looked like and to ask the landscape to talk to me. The stringy bark gums shedding layers, the gentle sound of the brook rippling, the wind fondling the leaves of the old redgum were supported by a lively orchestra of parrots, honey eaters and … magpies.

My Dad was a maggie through and through (a Port Adelaide supporter) so I mused that the older bird watching on was his totem come to let me know he was witness too. The three magpies – a feathered trinity. It was emotional.

This place is a sacred meeting place for generations for the Kaurna people and I wonder what the elders would tell me about the magpies visiting the mother of the bride on a day between the Saturdays? Perhaps they were affirming my action to take the moment, and holding me there so I would enter into it? Perhaps they were heralding me onwards and reminding me that between Saturdays it is right to stop and soak it in? One thing I was confident of, I was being blessed and loved and honoured and the Universe had sung my Dad to me and is with us, with me.

When I think back to the “between the Saturdays” of my wedding, I remember being by the water tank at the back of my family home learning the lines of my vows so that I could confidently recite them and not repeat the words from the priest. I remember wanting to be able to know them “off by heart” because they were going to last me a lifetime. I did learn them and I do recite them to myself from time to time when I need of remind myself. I have found that at different times in my life one line has been more salient than another – for richer or for poorer ; in sickness and in health. I was always a bit confused that richer comes before poorer and sickness before health. I am definitely richer than ever and sickness is more at our door than ever but they now come together in a way that makes perfect sense to me now. My father walked me down the aisle of John XXIII as the sun set on a hot Saturday evening in February. Our daughter will walk between her Mum and Dad, along a path strewn with leaves as the afternoon sun reaches its height in a park at the back of a colonial courthouse where for thousands of years people have gathered as families to share stories and food and delight in the spring that never dries up. it was in this place she joined a croning ritual for my 50th birthday. It is a place I go to for making decisions, for respite and just to be. This place will bless those who gather and in turn we will bless the space between us as John O’Donohue has described ” in the parched deserts of post modernity a blessing can be like the discovery of a fresh well … When a blessing is invoked, it changes the atmosphere. .. It is ironic that so often we live like paupers though our inheritance of spirit is so vast” (xv To Bless the Space Between Us).

This same week, between the Saturdays, a young friend bought back from his travels Br David Steindl-Rast’s new book 99 Blessings. My young friend had met Br David in Edinburgh at TED Global. They connected and his book travelled half the world with an inscription and blessing to us. The lightness of the book seemed to be a feather in the breath of God itself, being blown to me on the wings of airlines and in the care of the next generation … I am so blessed and so grateful! What a delicious filling in between these Saturdays!

I am being drenched by love. I come to Saturday confident that a community of creatures, indeed the whole universe, is intent on bestowing blessings that bring union to time and space, the visible and invisible, past and future.

On Saturday, at the wedding, I am going to read John’s blessing for a marriage, and having sat on his land in Ireland earlier in the year, adding my voice to singing the Beatitudes as a storm began to roll in, truly I know the maggies are with me. Never before has “when two or three gather in My name” rung as true as it does for me this week, between the Saturdays.

I come to this Saturday knowing that it is in the in-between spaces that revelations unfold and blessings abound.

Courthouse Gardens, Willunga

Death in the workplace

Very recently a friend who was planning to leave her place of work and move on, put in her resignation (yes, she had watched my TEDx Talk and I think it should come with a warning).  When she put in her resignation, management asked her to pack and go immediately. Even though the news was now out that she was going in the moment of hearing her news they thought they had a month to prepare, they thought they would have time to have a few more laughs together, more time to dream and create a few more things. Management requiring her to go immediately was unexpected. Her sudden departure was a little like a sudden death. It’s been around a month now and her old crew have been kept busy with immediate and pressing priorities, and now the realities are starting to sink in. Her office door is closed, dust has settled on her desk and there is none of the familiar giggly banter in the corridor.  The lights don’t go on where she once worked.  Her work buddies are beginning to feel the real strain of her absence – her wise counsel, clear head, quality leadership and competent support – all gone.  Her love shared, no longer just down the corridor.

I remember President George Bush (the younger) talking about his Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as his ‘work wife’.  The intimacies of the workplace are real; and in this workplace, sisterhood brings all the features of any cloister you hosted Hildegard.  The work site is a second home and for some perhaps the first home of their deepest relationships and the place where some find most meaning in their lives.  I recall your angst and sadness when your dear friend Richardis moved from your convent and despite your protests (even to the Pope) you weren’t able to reconcile what you considered a defection.  Loss runs deep and grief has to find its own way of worming its way out.

Once upon a time in a workforce I was leading, our boss decided to resign immediately and in making the announcement to the team, one of the most senior people, a tall strong male (who I often dubbed as one of my weapons of mass distraction), fell against the wall and I thought he was going to collapse.

Resignation can be a death in the workplace. When the working community have time to prepare in the weeks or months leading up to the final departure a kind of palliative care can settle in, often it is the one that is leaving doing the caring of the others.  When Fates get her way, and the leaving is instantaneous, the sudden death experience is shocking.

David Whyte‘s work The Three Marriages reminds us that the relationship to our self and our work is one of the key marriages and for many of us we also fall in love with our work mates and our work as well, so when there is a falling out or a resignation, the partings hurt. The other side of resignation is the impact your work death has on those who are left behind, especially when the leaving is accelerated not by your own hand.  Once you have gone, your ghost still remains and your spirit may live on in others, your legacy will be visible in the people you have trained and selected, maybe the products you have designed are marked with your indelible fingerprint … whatever remains you are not written out of the story. “We become visible to the world through our work” David Whyte reminds us, and even though we may no longer be in that work, having been there, our legacy remains. ( I recently discovered a cartoon that I had commissioned back in the 1980s was still being used in promotional material.)

When you decide to leave a job you step into a risk and some may consider you foolish or even selfish for leaving others behind – but you know it is the step you need to take.  You are taking up, not relinquishing and for many it is a return to your deepest and truest self, so that self can be nurtured and grow in a new way – a resurrection.

I like to find satisfaction in my labour and how I hold the other marriages of my self and my love together is a triune challenge, but one that I sign up for each and every day.  And in that signing up it is inevitable that I will experience the full range of what it means to be in relationship – intimacies that open me to love, death, betrayal,  joy, anticipation, grief … and every other emotion that the landscape of the three marriages offers. I have always valued my work and understood it as vocation.  Vocation is a summons, a divine call, it is not a job.  It means that I am always following that call regardless of the job I might find myself in, when I do find myself travelling with others who are fellow travellers it is a blessing and I miss them when we aren’t on the same road and I  like to remind myself we are still on the same journey and that gives me some comfort.

When we find a real vocation we “marry” our work but we also commit beyond the immediate work to a legacy we will leave behind us; we make vows to an invisible future that will somehow be sustained by own equally invisible harvest somehow gleaned from all the very, very visible effort. In work we marry a hoped-for future as much as we do when we marry a person. The memory and the hoped-for legacy is with us ’till death do us part”.   The Three Marriages, p.316 D. Whyte.

Isle of Wight Graveyard

Isle of Wight Graveyard

Naming and Claiming

There are many names by which someone is known. I have my personal favourites of how I am called.  This year on my birthday, my one true love created a collage of many of the names I’m known by and presented it to me.

Dear Hildegard while you were never wife or lover, I am sure you too were known by many of the same names – sister, daughter, aunt and mother too. You were mother to many. And the name I like to give you is: polymath. Polymath is such a great name yet when I went researching polymaths there are no references to women as polymaths, only the Renaissance men like Leonardo di Vinci. I recently learnt more about the 17th century Mexican Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz who is also a polymath! Juana was dedicated to speaking out about the education of women and girls. A nun and reformer like you Hildegard.  I am looking forward to learning more about her.  Another truly amazing woman in love with her God and insisting on the capabilities of women, writing poetry and letters to change their world and the future to come.  Another blog for another day.

How we are called and how we name ourselves provides some insight into how others see us and understand us in their world. Names reveal even the quality of the relationships between one another.

The names we call people can demonise and eulogise, the names can divide and conquer. Names maybe invested with meaning, status, place and power and the investments can add or take away from the person.  A royal highness is a long way from a slum dog. Names can poison and names can position.

So when my gift was bestowed on me I looked deeply into al the names that appeared and with each of them comes a set of relationships, meanings, connections, perspectives. Each name has its own story of how it came to be created, how it came to be bestowed upon me. The journey to get that name, the journey to retain or even loose that name and how well the name was worn is unique to each name but not separate from other names.

When I think of your name Hildegard as meaning protective battle-maid. A warrior in the spiritual quest, ready for battle with the demons and the ego was reflected in your own sense of smallness, describing your self as being ‘ just a poor little female’ from the ‘weaker sex’.  It is hard to believe you ever attributed these qualities to yourself, except in some self deprecating way; you knew who you were and your opus dei was not that of a shrinking violet! (This led me to wonder about where the term shrinking violet itself comes from and my cursory online search tells me that it was the colour not the flower that violet refers to.  According to the 1934 edition of Webster’s Unabridged the colour violet is emblematic of gravity and chastity. We all know violet flowers are small with a delightful, pungent fragrance and that they can easily take over the garden even though they might start in small dark patch in a hidden corner.)

As I come to terms with the names I am given and the names I give myself, I feel there is a lot to live up too. The common titles given like mother, daughter, sister are infused with relationship, responsibility, role. The titles bring on joy, anxiety, delight. And when we have these titles we add to their meaning – especially those titles that are a part of the collective consciousness.  The damage that has been done to some naming like politician – using this name conjures up travel rorts, untrustworthiness, populist images. And who would want to be named Christian Brother or Catholic priest right now?

I want to honour the names I have been given by others and the journey to discover my own name is certainly part of the pilgrimage. Soon I will have two new names – mother-of-the-bride and mother-in-law. These titles herald a new era of family dynamics. They forecast generational change.

My name given to me by my parents and over which I had no say and then the name I took from my husband and all the other names given to me over the years, I do wonder what name I would give myself. I was deeply offended once by a neighbouring co-worker who called me “Earth Mother”.  On my side of the building I would get up very early most mornings, travel to the office, bake muffins for everyone as most would arrive without breakfast and we would have long and difficult days managing the affairs of a government minister and as head honcho I want us to be the best team we could be under the circumstances. I saw my breakfast ritual as holding the space and leading powerfully. When I heard “earth mother” from the lips of someone who didn’t value what we were faced with each day, I felt devalued and disrespected for the leadership and appreciated for the nurturing in equal measure.  Since then I have been able to hear ‘earth mother’ as strong, resilience, protective, nourishing … and they are all the qualities that were being exhibited day and night in that job.

One of the favourite ways I have been named by others is MoD.  This name was given to me by one of my offspring (it harks back to Jennifer Lopez being called J-Lo) and it caught on amongst some of their peers. From time to time I am referred to as MoD at parties where the younger ones gather and when they talk to one another about me – it is a fun way to be called, unique and because it was created just for me I feel quite honoured when I hear it being used.

There are so many names by which we can be called and by which I am known, and I am like you Hildegard, just a little woman … so how many more names are there for the wonder and awe of the One.  I heard a hymn some years ago Bring Many Names that skims the possibilities; but is only a glimpse for no single name is possible.

Bring  Many Names

Words: Brian Wren
Words © 1989, revised 1994 by Hope Publishing Co., Carol Stream, IL 60188.

Bring many names, beautiful and good,
celebrate, in parable and story,
holiness in glory, living, loving God.
Hail and hosanna! Bring many names!

Strong mother God, working night and day,
planning all the wonders of creation,
setting each equation, genius at play:
Hail and hosanna, strong mother God!

Warm father God, hugging every child,
feeling all the strains of human living,
caring and forgiving till we’re reconciled:
Hail and hosanna, warm father God!

Old, aching God, grey with endless care,
calmly piercing evil’s new disguises,
glad of good surprises, wiser than despair:
Hail and hosanna, old aching God!

Young, growing God, eager, on the move,
saying no to falsehood and unkindness,
crying out for justice, giving all you have:
Hail and hosanna, young, growing God!

Great, living God, never fully known,
joyful darkness far beyond our seeing,
closer yet than breathing, everlasting home:
Hail and hosanna, great, living God!

Moira many names

Moira many names

Life in Ruins

When cracks appear,  walls fall down and a roof collapses, a ruin begins to appear.   Buildings once complete, relationships once whole may crumble and fall into a state of disrepair. Lack of maintenance, deliberate acts of destruction, natural disasters, erosion, weather all add to the disappearance of what was built in love, with patience and usually quite a bit of planning.

So how is that a life in ruins might actually be a wonderful testament to endurance and survival?

I witness ruins and I wonder what secrets and dreams do the ruins host? The ruins reveal the essence of the foundations, and what parts were the strongest, boldest and most steadfast.  A life in ruins may be a fiat of life well lived and a legacy to inspire others.

When visiting Hilda of Whitby‘s ancient cathedral I was charmed by what had endured and how the remains were fiercely holding out to the wild winds. I felt the freezing cold late afternoon wind on my face that poured into my bones.  I could hear the ancient chorus breathing into the spaces the buildings had made; a giant flute echoing to earliest Gregorian chants of an ancient and devout community betrothed to one another, Hilda and Whitby.

Several years later I found myself at your re-built Abbey Hildegard in Rudesheim  non-architectural ruins were visible to me. Fragments of ritual and language being held together in a familiar landscape of prayer and song.   I did not visit the ruins where many of your compositions and your letters, Hildegard were probably made. Perhaps one day I will!

This year I had the honour of being on David Whyte‘s tour in Western Ireland. We were held in the comfort of BallyvaughanCounty Clare  and travelled one day to the ruins of Coromroe Abbey.  My body and soul in ruins.  At this sacred place, myself and fellow pilgrims blessed newly married sojourners and were honoured to be blessed in turn by their love and masterful generosity. You can read their story in their own words.  What I learnt that day that will remain with me forever is that a life in ruins is indeed a blessed life in blessed ruins.  The echo of the kyrie sung by Eoin and Moley O Suilleabhain keeps arriving and nourishing me from my audio memory.

Inspired by a  life in ruins, Coromroe Abbey and the blessings of this holy occasion and the honeymoon I found myself witness to, these words came to me.

We blessed them in the ruins.
Not the ruins of their past lives,
But the ruins of their life ahead.

The fragments worn and lost,
Have gone to where they needed to go;
Into the earth,
Or onto the wind.

The ruins that remain are the resilient bits.
The bits that can take the elements,
That can stand the tests of time,
That stubbornly refuse to collapse under the pressures of trials and treasons.

Ruins, strong and embedded into the landscape;
Worn well throughout the ages;
Holding and grounded in a deep wisdom.

Ruins that know weathering is a sign of endurance.
No decay or debris to be found here.
No death or destruction.
No disappearance.

All ruins: fully present and accounted for;
Holding fast;
Holding firm,
Holy ground.
Inspired by the love of days;
that will count for years.

The blessing made
The marriage confirmed.

Never before had I been a guest at a honeymoon!

So when I feel like my life might be in ruins, I return to Whitby, to Rudesheim and especially to Coromroe Abbey. I go to a deeper place where I receive my life in ruins with gratitude. I grow in my desire for the elements to support my disappearance and gracefully shape the remains. I look forward to the birds of the air, the pollen and air borne spores finding a home and bond with me in a timeless, ever changing way.

Coromroe Abbey, Clare, Ireland

Coromroe Abbey, Clare, Ireland

Playing with Fire

Learning how to play with fire is one of the essential lessons on the path to adulthood.

There are so many lessons to learn:

–       don’t stand too close or you’ll get burnt

–       begin with small combustible items to get the fire going

–       there needs to be space between each piece of kindling so that air can circulate

–       air is fuel for the fire

–       a good wind can get the fire going in places you weren’t expecting

–       it has the power to burn

–       it has the power to destroy

–       it leaves a pile of ash after its over

–       some seeds can only explode and come to life in a fire

–       green shoots look amazing on the burnt out black stumps after a bushfire

–       it can kill everything in its path

–       it only takes a spark to keep the fire burning

–       it glows, gives warmth and inspires

I am sure there are many more lessons fire teaches, but these are some of the ones I have learnt. I have learnt them over the years from campfires in the desert, standing by for evacuation during bushfire season, listening in to the news and operation rooms where wild fire disasters were unfolding, watching my own children learn their own lessons (sometimes very anxiously).

Hildegard for you, the fire was within, you combusted with passion and for generations we have been basking in that glow and been fuelled by it. Your Fire of Creation is stunning and this is a little taste for readers who haven’t ever had the treat of listening.

The fire can burn brightly to show us where to go, and guide us to a safe place as well. The eternal flame, a long time symbol of remembrance and reflection of hard won battles and promise of a peaceful future.

And so it was that theidea of playing with fire that lit me up this week when Australia’s first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard  (who had certainly been flame grilled) gave her post  parliament interviews to adoring fans in Sydney and Melbourne. Around the campfire of our TVs and twitter-feeds women like me who weren’t there in the flesh, hung every word, seeking our own closure to the circumstances of her demise.

As a “first” Ms Gillard had a baptism of fire.  The fact she is a red head was mentioned more than once.  We heard her speech that ricocheted around the world, denouncing misogyny as the theory and sexism as the practice. And with the fire in her belly, many others if us were warmed – many of us have stood to close to those flames and been burnt.

Gillard urges us to have a sophisticated conversation and to look for the shades of grey in the issues. There maybe shades of grey for the educated and resourced, but it is pretty black and white if you don’t earn equal pay, if you face domestic violence, or if you are being sexually harassed at work.

And then there are all the women and girls who won’t ever get to make or hear a speech like that, murdered at birth because of their gender, not getting to school because of their gender or being sold in a market place because they are female. For these women and girls it is shades of blood red.

There is still plenty more to do before there is the inclusion, respect and equality frame that  Anne Summers kindly put around the analysis of what we all witnessed and for some also participated in (nb Germaine Greer).

I want to fan the flames that will grow up more women in leadership, that will inspire,  warm and comfort us all. I want to fan the flames that will bring down institutions and practices because their patriarchal foundations are crumbling. And I want to do all of that with songs of joy, with justice in my heart and having learnt the lessons of playing with fire.

PS  Hildegard, I love that your scribe was a man.

Hildegard channelling the Holy Spirit and her scribe taking it all down!

Hildegard channelling the Holy Spirit and her scribe taking it all down!