Monthly Archives: December 2015

2016: Dancing with speeches

Each week, for the past three years I have written a letter, in 2013 to medieval mystic, Hildegard of Bingen,  2014 to Biddy Early, wise woman of County Clare and in 2015 Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz 17th century Mexican scholar and Hieronymite nun.  I have loved journeying with these women and sharing our common pilgrimage across time and space.  In 2016 I am embarking on responding to speeches of women and men throughout the ages.

I plan to choose an historical speech and respond to that speech in some  way. This may take the form of re-writing the speech for today or perhaps doing a speech-in-reply.  My research is taking me from apologies of Socrates and Kevin Rudd, from Eleanor Roosevelt’s love of libraries to Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, from Keating in Redfern to Pearson at Whitlam’s funeral, from Stella Young on not being inspirational to Gandhi on making salt. Maybe you dear reader have a favourite speech?  The Sermon on the Mount? Mandela’s inauguration? Feel free to suggest one to me (I have a list of 35, so there is room for more).

Liberation is be central to the human spirit and embedded in the words of all the speeches I have read to date.  The sense we are all connected and responsible for each others liberation is best expressed by Lilla Watson, a great Australian whose leadership inspires and challenges.  This connectivity is a dance where I will be take the lead from the speech maker and in accepting the invitation, keep the dance moving, taking new steps and next steps.

Watson-PANEL_edited.jpgIf you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time.

But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.

Lilla Watson, 1985 Decade for Women Conference, Nairobi

Watson has said of this quote that she was “not comfortable being credited for something that had been born of a collective process” and prefers that it be credited to “Aboriginal activists group, Queensland, 1970s.”

Remains of the Year

Dear Sor Juana

The season of Christmas is upon us and the remains of turkey and pudding will be tempting to find their way to my mouth over the next couple of days. Masquerading as left overs they will still be centre stage. Crumbs, wrapping paper, ribbons – all get recycled sooner or later. The festival and feasting linger before the new year begins.

So often I think our church, Sor Juana, is a remnant, where we are hanging on to the few remaining unraveling threads, and then Christmas comes and churches are full of hope and promise, families reunited, carols filling once empty cavities and a little person, like all little people divine and complete in their goodness, untouched by the world and the temptations to come. Unblemished by fear, greed, pride, envy and all the other sin that eat away at simplicity, humility, hope, joy: the little one is there, amongst us, being adored as all children should be.

In the convent Sor Juana this would have been a time of prayer and feasting too! Perhaps you treated your Sisters to poems and songs, perhaps you gave yourself a treat and gazed at the stars for longer than usual, connecting your night sky to that of Bethlehem’s.

In our sky, we had a full moon for Christmas Day, the first time in 38 years, and although cloud cover early in the evening concealed her from view, once the clouds released their load of rain, she was able to be seen and we were refreshed. When we are carrying a load, our true selves can’t always be seen either and often it takes the tears to be shed before we too are refreshed and renewed.

The remains of this year will be echoed in the years to come.

This is my last letter to you and it is time to say good bye Sor Juana. Thank you for travelling with this pilgrim in 2015. You have been a faithful companion and have drawn me to places where you found comfort and joy – words, the sky, community and prayer, silence and service. In looking over my letters to you I see those elements of your life entwined in the thoughts I’ve shared. Left overs from your table and your story have found their way to me across the ages and pockets of souvenirs from your worlds, benefactors and visitors, have found their way into my words. Your oft quoted line: I did not study to learn more, but to ignore less, is a solid foundation and will remain with me.

Your ability to speak up and then to choose silence as your final word has been instructive. And this is where I will leave our conversation, investing in understanding for that is where there is wealth and in the silence knowing a blank page speaks as well as one full of words.









Dear Sor Juana,

I live in a country where droughts and flooding rains co-exist across the continent. This land is my meditation and my metaphor never letting me out of Her grip.

Parched earth

Thoughts wandering

Looking for a home.


Banks bursting

Feelings floating

Looking for a harbor.




Lost. Found.


The panic of rapid movement, expending energy, consuming oxygen that leads to drowning. The longing for thirst to be quenched and the relief that comes from a single sip. How do you breathe and not drown?

The inevitable moment of surrender to the elements arrives, and taken wholly, fully by what consumes you and you become that thing – the water, the air, the desert, the river, the ocean. These are the moments where thoughts stop swirling, land and are crystalized. Purification occurs when all the impurities are stripped away. Warmed up, cooled down, concentrated, extracted. Clarity arrives. Truth faced. There is only thirst. There is only breath. Essence of life. Distilled.

Only Breathbreath

Not Christian or Jew or Muslim, not Hindu
Buddhist, sufi, or zen.
Not any religion or cultural system.
I am not from the East or the West,
not out of the ocean or up from the ground, not natural or ethereal, not
composed of elements at all.
I do not exist,am not an entity in this world or in the next,
did not descend from Adam and Eve or any origin story.

My place is placeless, a trace
of the traceless.

Neither body or soul.

I belong to the beloved,

have seen the two
worlds as one and that one call to and know,

first, last, outer, inner, only that
breath breathing human being.


Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh

Dear Sor Juana,

The year is coming to a close and in our hemisphere the summer days collide with Christmas. It is a juxtaposition of openings and closings. Closure is a forecast to an opening, a new beginning. Out of office notices start to appear, conversations turn to sand, sea and surf reports, an eye is kept on bushfire alerts as the mercury rises, sausages sizzle on de-cobwebbed BBQs ready for family and friends to drop by.

Packing up the year and reflecting on what has been, is an invitation to what lies ahead as well. What can be packed up, what will go on rinse and repeat, what will never happen again? Don’t leave the lessons learnt from the year behind, they maybe useful companions in the year ahead.

Accumulating wisdom is one way I like to think of the visitors from the East in the nativity story. They brought their wisdom to the foot of a child in a donkey’s trough. Imagine receiving gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Gold a transition metal the subject of alchemy, perhaps it is an alchemist bearing the product of his chemistry (after all chemistry means magic). Frankincense bankrupted a civilization when it was currency. This amazing oil full of healing properties to relieve chronic stress and anxiety, reducing pain and inflammation, boosting immunity. The carrier in our nativity tale perhaps someone who knew the essence of life and how to build resilience. Essential oils require distillation, what a grand metaphor to bring to the crib – to distil the essence of life. And then the myrrh, derived from a thorny bush, a predictor of things to come, intoxicating perfume that can only be harvested from its source through repeatedly wounding the tree to bleed and release its sap. What a message here of the gifts of pain, release and prophecy for lies ahead for all of us as we enter fully into our own journey and story. The opening and closing of the child in Bethlehem has myrrh as book ends for his life and death.

What are the gifts we bring to this season that will last our whole life through?  Who are the ones who bring you gold, frankincense and myrrh?

Looking for the alchemy, the essence and release will be part of how I spend reflecting on this year and what I need to keep an eye out for in what is ahead.



Advent Examen

Dear Sor Juana,

Advent has begun and the questions of this season of transition have begun to be revealed.  Starting first with a familiar face behind a camera asking me at a public event: “How would you like to be remembered?”  I answered “… as a woman who lived with grit, grace and gratitude”.  And so as this season has begun I am asking myself, just exactly how am I living like that, how does grit, grace and gratitude actually transpire through, in and around me?

The babe born in a stable, into a family in transit and on the move, surrounded by creatures, honored by followers of stars and welcomed by those unseemly shepherds is a powerful of metaphors on what it means to be born into this species.  This child, native to that space, this is The Nativity, the single instruction of simplicity, the code for inclusivity and the guide to living.

The idea of “going native” by taking on some (or all) of the cultural traits of the people around you is surely embedded into the hay of manager. The nativity is asking us to ‘go native’ and follow this little one, to take on the traits of humility and to receive gifts from afar, from the wise and the simple, to hear the songs of angels praising your arrival, to be held and adored.  If you really believed and accepted that your presence was a cosmic act and each moment contained divine inspiration surely you would be living with plenty of grace and gratitude!  The grittiness is something else, the very human stuff, that brings humility and a constant call back to the labour pains of transition from one world to another. This is all part of the advent season too – trusting in the transition as well as the promise of what is beyond. 

When the children were young, each Advent I would buy a new book of the nativity story (and we have quite a collection). It was part of the preparation, along with decorations, cheesy carols and traditional ones floating from various devices and making music together from saucepan drums, guitars and maracas.  This season of preparation calls on more from me this year and I am being invited to grit to herald grace and gratitude and I come to the nativity scene to help me get to the other side of this transition with my examen for advent.

Examen for Advent

Are you ready to have a home in the hay?

Are you ready to receive the gifts of strangers?

Are you ready to hear angels singing your praises?

Are you ready to be held?

Are you ready to be adored?

Are you ready to share your breath with the animals?

Are you ready to lie under the stars?

Are you ready to be fed by mother’s milk?

Are you ready to cry in the dark?

Are you ready to be embraced?

Are you ready to flee from oppression?

Are you ready to trust, knowing the sacrifice ahead?