Monthly Archives: January 2015

Slaves, Doulas, Midwives

Francisca and Moira in Dutton Bay

Francisca and Moira in Dutton Bay

Dear Sor Juana,

The birds have been so loud lately, tweeting and twittering from well before dawn (that’s the rooster up the road who has no respect for human’s sleeping patterns – another reminder of our place in nature’s chain) right through the day. It is in the mornings though when I am lying in bed, squirming my body awake that a frenzy of squawks, screeches, coos and whistles find their way to my ears to welcome me to the day. Moving from dreams to an awake state is something of a birth every day with these mid-wives of the air calling me out.

Between gin and tonics on a summer’s afternoon, I recently learnt about doulas, those women who accompany other women who are with child. My teachers were two unmarried women from different cultures enthusiastically promoting the value of doulas. I have since discovered the word comes from the Greek and means slave, which somehow drew me to your life Juana. Apparently you arrived into the convent with a slave of your own, that your mother had given you. Maybe this woman was your spiritual doula?  What it must be to have a doula, a faithful witness to be there providing assistance, supporting, holding, comforting, coaching without judgement … to say nothing of the cooking and cleaning she would have offered. This woman with no name, Juana, you sell to your sister – it seems to me she has the protection and patronage of the women in your family.   Being passed from one woman to another, from one generation to the next, the witness, the faithful keeper of stories and secrets.

You called yourself a slave, as a way of defining your humility and your service to your beloved in the court, Her Ladyship the Vicereine, Marquise de la Laguna. When we hold close and long to be belonged, to be owned and fully at the service of one we love, the source of that passion surrenders us to slavery.

It is an error of the tongue
when that which is called imperial
and mastered, and of the dominion
appear to be the slave’s possessions.

“My king” declares the vassal,
“My prison” claims the prisoner, 
and the most humble slave
without the slightest offense can claim her master as her own.

Thus when I call you mine
I am not in the least pretending
that you will be adjudged to belong to me, 
but solely that I wish to be yours.

translated by Dia Tsung.

I am reminded of the depth of love can bring any of us to slavery. Love of a person, the divine, nature, our vocation … all might lead us to that …. And if we find ourselves with a doula along the way so much the better.  I am nourished by the purity of Satnam Kaur’s voice who sings of a slave being drenched in the fragrance of the Lord and in doing so has been died a deep crimson – the perfect colour to choose for passion.

Blessings to the slaves and doulas in our life mid-wifing blessings each day

and blessings to us when we are slaves and doulas to our passions and each other.

Floods and Fires

Dear Juana,

Fires and floods is Australia: where one part of the country sandbags and another can’t get enough water to douse flames as a destructive Red Shiva showing his more destructive self.

Koppio - 10 years after the fires

Koppio – 10 years after the fires

Dust settles. The rain comes and after a good soaking, the parched earth sighs with gratitude.All the elements of fire, air and water fused in one summer day.

So it is with our inner lives too, just as the rains follow the fires or the dry follows the floods, tears come to encourage, engage, enrage, hold and move us on. One part of our lives might be flooding or on fire and another in drought and unproductive. Waiting for the fire to pass, or bagging up the sand to hold back the flood is a positive and necessary step to inoculate and protect. These responses are also a reminder that the flood and the fire still come despite your best efforts.

In your day Juana, Mexico was flooded and the locals stormed the Vice Roy and set the palace on fire to try and get access to the food that might have been stored there as most days there was no bread for people to eat.   Your response it is written, was to sell your beloved books to give the money to the poor. The fire in your heart for justice and a desire to feed the hungry was quite a contrast to your earlier pursuits of living off the benevolence of the court. Such a practical response to raise money. I find myself talking about monetization of products, services, ideas, networks and all sorts of things to enable those with the least to not be passive recipients of someone else’s goodwill, but to have home grown solutions to poverty – even though I know storming the palace may be the consequence of a lack of generosity and sharing by those with the most. I certainly have more than my fair share of what the planet has to offer. My little efforts are no more than an indulgence, a pathetic crumb from the table.

You gave away all you had that was valuable to you a study in detachment par excellence.

She rid herself of her ample library, only reserving for her own use a few slim devotional works …. She also removed from her rooms all the exquisite and unique mathematical and musical instruments; as well as any valuable or esteemed jewels … and reduced everything to reales sufficient to feed many of the poor …

The floods and fires come and impose detachment for those directly effected. The invitation is to know we are all facing floods and fires in our internal and external lives. It is always the practice that counts. Reduction, detachment, is a distillation bringing an essence to birth. Juana you left yourself to your prayers and retreated deeper into your spiritual practices eventually that led you to silence.  My hunch is shedding yourself of all your valuables was for your own preservation as much as for the poor.

Pens, Kalashnikovs and Bridges

Dear Sor Juana,

The sound of ideologies clashing continues to be a hail of bullets resulting in more radicalisation and creation of martyrs. This week the martyrs from one set of ideas are cartoonists, satirists, writers and from another, violent extremists – each to their own kind of weapons – one pens, the other, Kalashnikovs.

The everyday little wars we have where no blood is split, where egos might be bruised or voices raised are transparent. We can see into each other’s eyes. There is something that happens when we know a person’s name, who they are and where they come from. The pursuit of these truths comes with immediacy when crimes are perpetrated, we want to know who would do such things.

With the mass media of our time Sor Juana, being a bystander is not really an option, the news is all around us and nearly all of us have the capacity to document with words and pictures on multiple platforms. Severed heads are tweeted to a sporting audience just as easily as a meme about cats (I know you were a cat lady so you might well have had a giggle about some of those).

The age of fear is every age. I began my life in the shadow of the fear of nuclear annihilation and that fear cloud still hangs over civilisation. Martin Luther King gave a sermon once, as did hundreds before and after him, searching for an antidote to the fear of integration and said only love was the remedy. He had a four step plan: Face our fears; be courageous; master perfect love and be filled with faith. This kind of love hurts, takes prisoners and may well end badly. King prescribed people getting to know one another too and invoked the scriptures of his faith:

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love ” I John 4.18

“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind ” II Timothy 1 7

My home-grown experience of terrorism began because of some words I had written in a church newspaper. My words against racism inspired a right wing Christian group from my own denomination to track me down to my street, throw bricks through my windows and decorate it with graffiti hated filled slogans. In the wake of this week’s terrorism in Paris, as with all the times terrorism soaks into my world, I remember those moments. The first victim of this week’s massacre was a Muslim.

Thoughts can bring terror, as you discovered Sor Juana. Your thoughts, words and actions inspired some and terrorised others – just as feminism has done for centuries. I think dualism is the enemy and diversity and capacity to embrace a range of views essential for love and hope to prosper. Ways for all the voices to be heard is a practice and the thirst to hear more of the voices, is one quenched by respect.   It is not easy to hold the pen still when outrage roars and fear stock rises and possibly even harder for those who hold the gun. Sometimes actions speak louder than words.

My friend Gill Hicks is setting out to climb bridges. This is her response to terrorism, her plan to face her fears, her way to be courageous, her journey to master love and her way to be filled with faith in humanity.  She is in conversation with terrorism every day, losing both her legs in the London bombings ten years ago. She is training hard every day – it is a practice and a discipline to climb a bridge. She is saying Be the Bridge.  I am another Pollyanna. (For those who don’t know the story of Pollyanna, after being a champion of finding the glad in every story, she fell off the top of her aunt’s roof and lost the use of her legs.  The local townsfolk rallied around to remind her of her insatiable optimism cheering them all up in their dark moment. Pollyanna was changed forever.)

Je Suis Pollyanna

My bridge building materials

My bridge building materials


Dear Sor Juana,

As the sun set on 2014 I glimpsed kangaroos in the prayer paddock of a Buddhist Monastery, brown steers with stealth like qualities slowing moved closer to our New Year’s Eve bubbles and oyster infused soiree. The year closed in good company where all of creation celebrated and as night wore on in the distance fireworks heralded new beginnings.  Just as each morning offers a new beginning, this day dawned, opening into a new year.

An opening is what happens when what was hidden or inaccessible now becomes visible and unites with the surroundings. Opening a jar of homemade pickles releases smells, love and tastes from across the nation, no longer locked up ready to be consumed by other members of the family.  Opening a bottle of wine frees gifts of the earth, the grapes and the winemaker. Opening a new year liberates incubated dreams and brings the promise of fulfilment over the months ahead.

So I open up to you Sor Juana and find that when I loosen the lid on your life, poetry and scholarship, I am treated to old ideas and new, as this is the first blog post for the year, I wanted to share an extract from your first published poem – First Dream. The first dreams of a new year are wrapped in the promise of resolutions and resolve, often quickly abandoned when distracted by old habits or a lack of discipline.  I will write to you each week Sor Juana as I have written to Hildegard and Biddy Early before you, trusting this practice is a never ending series of openings that keep me awake, uniting the visible and invisible.

(extract) Primer Sueño (First Dream)

Finally, Dusk could see, at last
a vision of the fugitive pass,
and — with her zeal on the mend
from ruin forces a second wind–
and she, in that half globe where the Sun
withdrew the sheltering garrison
rebelling again, makes up her mind
to sieze the crown a second time,
while in our hemisphere a skein
of golden Sunlight shines again,
and with its fair judicious light
distributes equally and shares
with all things visible their hues,
and with this restoration makes
the exterior senses operate
more certainly, as daylight breaks
on the illumined World and I – awake.

translated by Elwin Wirkala

NYE 2014 Songlines Station, Sellicks, Sth Australia

NYE 2014 Songlines Station, Sellicks, Sth Australia