Monthly Archives: May 2015


Dear Sor Juana,

Holding a newborn in my arms this week reminded me of the first time I did this as a new Mum, the smell of the soft skin and the sheer amazement that a little person – like every other creature on earth – had been born. This one created from love. There really can’t be enough love in the world.

The vulnerability and innocence of a child is breathtaking and it is no wonder that your God chose incarnation in this way to send the strongest of messages of what it means to trust. Each nativity scene in homes and hospitals around the world brings to birth not just a child, but the entire universal story and all of creation rejoices. You found a silversmith to make a nativity scene to give to your beloved benefactor by way of emulating her childbirth to the one in Bethlehem – every birth is divine and there is no mistaking its provenance.

The journey to birth isn’t always easy, for some it is long awaited, medically assisted; for others accidental and surprising. However the journey is made the child comes to greet us and tell us the story of trust and for me that is Divine Inspiration.

In my moments of uncertainty and anxiety I could do well to be like the babe in arms and trust in the Universe to provide and meet all my needs. Perhaps this is what is meant in the scriptures you loved so to “be like a child”? To be held by a loving parent, friend or family member, even a stranger is comforting. No words are needed, just gentle arms holding so I can take a breath, leaning into for respite and just to be. The everyday transactions of being held and to hold are nativity moments for the pilgrim to rest before taking another step on the same journey that started by being held.

I loved seeing the original of this painting in Florence joining my gaze with the mesmerising eyes of the children.

Gerrit van Honthorst  Adoration of the Child c.1620  Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

Gerrit van Honthorst
Adoration of the Child c.1620
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

Cost of Pentecost

Dear Sor Juana,

Pentecost is around the corner and no doubt this would have a special festival for your sisters in the convent. A promise fulfilled, infusing a community with courage, language and confidence to go from their comfort zone to foreign lands, arriving at the biblical seven weeks after Easter. For the Jewish community it is a the Feast of Weeks, Shavuot a harvest festival fifty days commemorating the gift of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Both religious observances reaping from what was sown in days of dark and despair.

We all have our own little Pentecosts where we have waited for the arrival, and therefore confirmation, of a promise made at a time where the chance of it being kept seemed, at best, remote.

The promises we make to one another, some taking the form of vows or pledges are laced with anticipation; a humble effort to take care ahead of time what is present in the moment. What we look forward to, may come with a wild wind, in words we can’t quite decipher immediately or perhaps in a form we don’t immediately recognise. Just as the Dark One may be camouflaged by the light, so might the light be so blinding we have to spend time allowing our eyes to adjust.

Each little Pentecost invites us to hear new words and ways with new ears and hearts. With the rattling of the windows and doors we are invited to stop shaking with fear, to say our yes to the invitation that is being extended as our part in enabling a promise to be fulfilled.   Pentecost happens in community; the ekklesia; the assembly – it is not an experience of an individual – something to remember when there appears to be so many soloists in their practice of being church these days! Being in a community of sojourners as you were in the convent Sor Juana would have brought its challenges, but I suspect it was also a place to find solace, and a spirit of belonging to something bigger than your own singular vessel.

The little pentecosts I experience in the community of family, friends, fellow pilgrims and work mates are a series of call and responses leading me on.  The cost: to be in community and not be seduced to being a soloist. Even when I might be the only person walking the path, none of us walk alone.



Unless the eye catch fire, 
The God will not be seen. 
Unless the ear catch fire 
The God will not be heard. 
Unless the tongue catch fire 
The God will not be named. 
Unless the heart catch fire, 
The God will not be loved. 
Unless the mind catch fire, 
The God will not be known.

William Blake

Writing Challenge Threshold

Dear Sor Juana,

I have accepted a challenge of writing a thousand words a day for the month of June and invited people to send me topics they would like me to write about. Opening up the space for others to shape has revealed the topics people want to read about and ones they might like to hear my thoughts on.  There are some themes emerging around economies of trust and hope and the transactional relationships of giving and taking in the personal and public dimensions. I have been reminded of a short essay wrote long ago (1993) on an alternative future for ethics and economics for Catholics in Coalition for Justice and Peace (the 90s were a time for such things and it was an extract from my Masters thesis).  Inviting topics from others has me now on the cusp of many conversations and reflecting on how conversations begin.

How do you begin a conversation? With an introduction, a casual greeting, a question? How ever it starts, there is always an opening, the creation of a space or a gap to allow access or a passageway through to the next space. We may not always know what we will find on the other side and there are times we all prevaricate over the opening of conversations we may not want to have.

The threshold, the place we find ourselves just before the opening where we might catch our breath, is our launching pad. The qualities of that place provide the foundations for what is to come next and as we step off, if they are loose and fragile they may not serve us well as we begin a conversation. The solidity of the ground beneath the feet of the conversation is a very real factor in how we move forward. The higher the trust the more solid the threshold and in turn the deeper the conversation.

I have written before on the poetry of David Whyte and even included his poem The Opening of Eyes previously and on the eve of his visit to my country I am trusting his opening to Australia will illicit his muse and poems from this landscape will emerge. When I met him a couple of years ago, in Ireland, it was the landscape and the music that opened me up in a new way and despite the essays and poems of his I had loved for a couple of decades, nothing prepared me for the place and its capacity to teach me. The joy of stumbling on the Burren and the echo of The Beatitudes melting into fog, are fused onto my threshold for the continuous conversation with the Divine.

Staying open and stepping off from a stable threshold supports this pilgrim. So as I get ready for my writing challenge, I give thanks for those who have sent me topics on which to write and treat their suggestions as solid ground from which to open every door, and in doing so, accept all the topics that have offered up to me.

The Opening of Eyes

That day I saw beneath dark clouds
the passing light over the water
and I heard the voice of the world speak out,
I knew then, as I had before
life is no passing memory of what has been
nor the remaining pages in a great book
waiting to be read.

It is the opening of eyes long closed.
It is the vision of far off things
seen for the silence they hold.
It is the heart after years
of secret conversing
speaking out loud in the clear air.

It is Moses in the desert
fallen to his knees before the lit bush.
It is the man throwing away his shoes
as if to enter heaven
and finding himself astonished,
opened at last,
fallen in love with solid ground.

— David Whyte
from Songs for Coming Home
©1984 Many Rivers Press

David Whyte and I in Ballyvaughan June 2013

David Whyte and I in Ballyvaughan June 2013


Dear Sor Juana,

Examination of conscience is quite a challenge and the temptations of the desert – an unholy trinity – are all around.

It is no surprise to me that the desert is the place where temptations seem bigger, bolder, brighter. In a landscape suffering from little precipitation and often wasting from erosion it is the prefect place to be tempted. I discover I am in a desert, often by accident, when temptations find their way to me l beautifully packaged. Writing to you is a constant reminder of your practice of examen – I live a more undisciplined life!

I am singularly impressed with the power of darkness to creep in disguised as light. The wrestle is real and in its own way even enjoyable. Discernment is a chance for ego gymnastics. So between the swings, roundabouts, high wire acts and juggling balls I eventually come to a resting place in my thoughts until the discomfort nudges me into deeper reflection.

Like you I turned to poetry to work through my thoughts and here is the outcome. Eliot‘s Murder in the Cathedral never far from my thoughts when faced with the fourth temptation.


Desert: home to temptation

Place of denudation.

Where stones promise to be bread

Body tempted yet soul not fed.

Where temple tower’s angelic safety net

Invites free fall, with no fear to vet.

Where the world is at your feet

And global citizens are there to greet.

Snakes, scorpions

Cloudless nights, wasted horizon.

Wrestling, can I avert

Eliot’s words in my desert?

The last temptation is the greatest treason

To do the right deed for the wrong reason.


Dear Sor Juana,

The intimacy of having the morning all to yourself, catching the early morning light as it floats into the day is a precious and gentle way to start the day. I enjoy those first tweets and squawks before the dawn, as nests are tidied and babies fed, as night is broken by the morning sounds. Getting ready for the day ahead happens long before the sun is up and long before the day arrives on the calendar. Sometimes all the preparation is invisible and your place in the day looks effortless to those around you – yet it has come to birth in the dark times, with groans and exasperation, in equal measure with joy, fun and excitement.

My looking effortless litany has words in it like: organisation, precision, care, attentiveness, support, teamwork, capacity, time, resources, improvisation, imagination. The alchemy of effortlessness is created in the kitchen of positivity inspired by Julian’s mantra that all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.

When you would have got up for your Lauds, Sor Juana, I suspect your canticle of praise would have buoyed you to be prophetic; to go and make the straight way for the Divine to follow. You would have welcomed the rising sun to shine on those living in darkness. So too it is for me to make visible what is invisible and bring to light those who maybe in the dark and help shine a light on what might not be visible to make those in the darkness have a better life ahead. This is work, a labour, yet there is a magic when it looks effortless to others.

This has been a rich week – fundraising, community raising, network building, learning, investigating and understanding. Each step on the pilgrimage starts with a new day with the birds at my window and ends with the sun setting on the horizon – the rhythm of the hours effortlessly keeping watch over me.

Sunset over Echunga

Sunset over Echunga