Tag Archives: pilgrim

Meeting the Moment 2021 #30

A couple of weeks after I was married (I was 19) I went to see for coloured girls when the rainbow is enuf – a series of poems and dance unique award-winning tale of the African-American woman’s journey in America by Ntozake Shange. It was the 1978 Adelaide Festival of the Arts. A few years earlier the Aboriginal Flag had flown for the first time in the square, next door to my high school,  right near the theatre this show was being performed in. I was learning and soaking up stories about being black, being an outsider, slavery and liberation. I knew more about slavery in North America, the slave trade out of England than I did about what was in my own country. As that decade rolled on into the next the apartheid movement and all the injustices took hold of me as well, and I grew in my understanding of the lack of a just settlement in Australia, mainly driven by the investigations and leadership of the Australian Catholic Bishops and the Australian Council of Churches, who I also worked for on and off throughout the 1980s and between campaigns there were children. Organising was what happened in schools, union halls, church buildings and in the columns of community news-sheets. When the bi-centennial came in 1988 I learnt more and had a few key people take me under their wing with practical, theological and ethical considerations to keep me curious, engaged, active. Foundations were laid, never fully or completely taken up, but enough there to hold the seeds in place and odd ones germinated from time to time as necessary.  It was not an intellectual exercise. I adorned the walls of the kitchen with healing bush foods, made and bought clothes with the messages, flags and materials to draw attention to the issues, read stories about justice and held up liberation leaders as role models. There was a fair bit of righteousness going on.  During this time I brought unwanted attention to my family from an ultra-right wing group who threw bricks through the windows of my children’s bedroom, damaged the car, wrote racist graffiti on the window of an overseas student who was boarding with us, had our phone bugged, children followed home from kindergarten, appeared in the press and on television to amplify the stories, gave evidence to a commission …. it was a heady period and there were times I felt courageous, and times I felt terrified for myself and for my family.  It all came together in front of the Adelaide Catholic Cathedral one day when I was abused walking out the front with an Aboriginal leader and fellow member of the Archdiocese Justice and Peace Commission, as we headed off to give evidence of our experience of vilification to a Human Rights Commissioner. A woman well known for her conservative religious beliefs abused me as we walked past the doors of the Cathedral. The irony of the moment left my friend and I in shock. We didn’t speak about it, we just kept walking.  I wasn’t 30 and so young in my activism but already felt I had a life time of experience.  Adelaide is hardly a hotbed of revolution, although we have been home to a lot of firsts in human rights and democratic practices.

The winds and rain and hail these past few days falling around me have brought me inside. In reflection, I have been struck by how little I look back, I try to be a pilgrim, to keep walking towards the light and finding each footing to have its own quality and character to guide the next step to be taken. All the steps of the past are the ones that have got me here, they are all worthy of mention from time to time, to remind myself of where I have walked, who has walked with me, who I have walked with, when I have rested, who I have rested with.

The pilgrim way is one step at a time and when I look back over my shoulder, I can see that there has been a path followed and yet the one over the hill that meets the horizon, remains invisible, melting into the sky. I can confidently keep walking knowing that each step is preparing me for the next.  Of late the backpack has been very heavy and even though it might grow in size and shape, it might also be lighter, such is the paradox of the pilgrim. Come night, the remains of the day, like the sand or pebbles from the road, can be shook from the shoes, rest arrives and silence stills the body and the mind as the inner journey prepares the next steps to be taken.  

I have been quoting Toni Cade Bambara this week who said  ‘As a culture worker who belongs to an oppressed people, my job is to make revolution irresistible.’  That is the work, to make the revolution irresistible. We need all the poets, pilgrims, designers, brand experts, lyricists, writers, musicians and artists. Having time and space to rest into the creative is a gift of these wild and windy days and nights. My response has been to make marmalade. Bitter sweet, citrus fruits, hot, steaming, bubbling and frothing, needing sterilised jars to hold the golden coloured jam, sealed in anticipation for spreading on hot toast. And that feels all just right to meet this moment and I hope deliciously irresistable.

Dark and Light Marmalade – Mandarins, Lemons, Grapefruit July 2021

Year of self-compassion #51 #repeat

Usually by this time in the year I have started to discern what the next year’s blog theme will be and others have noticed this as well and are providing advice and suggestions. This phenomena is letting me know that I have readers, that it is OK to offer me advice, that I might be open to suggestions, that perhaps I don’t yet know what to decide – all of these are true. In the listening I am noticing a theme around making another year of self-compassion might be useful. I am also noticing that others are reflecting on the ways they may or may not be kind to themselves and how some of my words might evoke a response or a memory or perhaps a pondering into the future as well. This is quite fascinating to me. I only really write for myself and part of my accountability is to put my posts into the world and in doing so join my humanity with others. The experience of being human may resonate with others of my species.

And so it came to pass that as the summer solstice arrived, I found myself at the Waging Peace exhibition at MOD (Museum of Design) in Adelaide this week. I was given a quick personal tour by the Director and now must go back and soak it all in. It is the perfect exhibition for this season where we make room for a peacemaker to arrive in our hearts, in the back shed where the animals rest, take shelter and feed, where we travel to ancestral lands and reconnect with our heritage, where we gather under stars and look to the heavens for signs of hope and instruction on how to live, where we subject ourselves to border crossings and arrive pregnant with possibilities. This day is also known as “founders day” in my family, the day my parents married in a little town on the edge of the Gulf, saltwater people both, young and full of promise and who within the year would be welcoming me into the fold. Travelling under a wandering star as the song from Paint Your Wagon goes, became part of the family narrative as well and when I saw my own brood scattered across the planet, it should come as no surprise to me. While none of them will be getting on donkeys or planes to come home this year, there will be the aid of technology and satellites and magi created moments to connect us with voice and vision.

Within 36 hours of the last of the Christmas Day cherries being swallowed and slurped, I will be jettisoning off to the other side of the world for a short trip to connect into my non-biological family. One has called to me with an irresistible invitation to come and see snow falling on a vertical city to be with her while we watch the lights twinkle and see the sun set early while the sun rises on my home. This generosity comes from the heart, from recognising the hole in my heart, and from the shared stories of joy, grief, movement and being still. It will be a chance to reconnect with our common story. I have sent word to stock up on tissues and champagne, to find places for me to be still and to be distracted. The getting there will have its own pilgrimage of border crossings, although no donkeys will be with me, there will be a backpack, as I can’t seem to leave home without one of those. The stars will offer up a map to me, a guide and perhaps signs for in this other hemisphere there are different celestial stories in the sky.

Arriving as I will a week or so after the days are getting shorter here and longer there, this may well be an aid to reminding me that the planet tilts and it orbits around the sun. My life revolves and is bathed in light across the course of a year with various amounts of intensity depending on how far I am from the source of that light. My life is seasonal and I have learnt a lot this year of what it means to be thrown off the axis into a different kind of orbit, it has been my ecological and molecular experience of personal climate change – tsunamis, wild winds, floods and droughts.

I am going to be looking for signs in the skies, to be surrounded by angels singing to me in celestial harmony, to be welcomed by an inn-keeper who has found a place for me to lay my weary head, to find a way to come home to myself in a strange land and to wage peace on myself.

I am no closer to arriving at a decision on what this blog will focus on in the coming year, but as the axis seems to be coming to some kind of stillness, maybe inviting me to revolve around self-compassion again? Maybe it is time for me to wage peace? Another instruction that came my way this week was the information that it was fifty years ago that we saw the Earth rise from Apollo 8 catching a glimpse of what it might mean, for us to rise and fall, and for us, to rotate and tilt.

Next year could not be like this one, and perhaps with a bit of light and intentionality of holding to a steady rotation to go around the sun again, I will discover “… fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains will repeat the sounding joy” our beautiful planet delivers to me in the people and places this pilgrim encounters.

Year of Self Compassion #25 #rewiring

I have been telling people this week I am still not match fit, but getting closer to being able to get a game with the seconds.  A couple of people have taken the opportunity to remind me that sitting on the bench you can still see all the play and from time to time you are required to jump onto the field for a short time and then back to the bench where you can rest and recover.  There is a mantra about not quitting and taking a rest instead – that is also useful in these times.  I seem to start to feel better and then over commit, quickly forgetting my limitations at the moment and then even more quickly being reminded of them. On the outside most people don’t seem to notice much, but those who have known me a long time, or know me deeply aren’t fooled and offer lots of kind words, encouragement and are patient with me. I am constantly touched by those acts of compassion and companionship. Not getting back to people and not following through in a timely fashion is out of character for me, and I am suiting myself about what I can and can’t manage and have taken the view if people don’t understand that’s too bad right now. I can pick up threads later … or not.

Re-reading the American poet Robert Lee Frost’s poem The Road Not Taken. He wrote it for a friend who was indecisive although it has been interpreted in all sorts of ways. I have always found it to be an invitation to travel on the less defined path, which may be more treacherous and more interesting, an invitation to unexplored territories and more adventures along the way. My reflection now is the road not taken and the one taken are both sides of the same coin, because in the end we all end up at the end of the road which ever path we have been. Taking an easy route sometimes is ok and even what might appear easy once wasn’t and had to be overgrown first before the path was made clear.  Every journey has its hazards and disappointments, twists and turns, even the ones which appear grassy and green at first.  Regardless of the path you are on, you are on a journey and regardless of the journey you are going to a final destination. There is no way out of that reality; we have choices in every yellow wood we come across.

Choices might be laden with ease or difficulty, and in my experience, the same set of choices on a different day may be easy one day and difficult the next. So much of what is possible is linked to not just the path but to our own capacity to walk it. Being match fit, is a variable regardless of the road taken.

What helps with fitness is practice? Regular and disciplined; time to sit on the bench and watch, time to get onto the field; taking instructions from coaches and mentors, listening to the body, saying yes and saying no, paying attention to the road not taken and knowing it will be still be there for another day.

The re-wiring I am doing is offering up two roads diverging in grey matter many times a day. I take the invitation now to stop and take a long look down one way as far as I can, and see bends in the undergrowth, and take the invitation, or not, to look to the road wanting wear and to take it or not, all the while knowing there are roads not taken waiting to be taken another day.  With a breath in, and a comforting exhaling sigh to myself, set my compass to the values to turn me towards synaptic paths to rewire for differences to be made today and in the days ahead. Then once turned, take the one less travelled, invite my values to hold this pilgrim to stay the course.

The Road Not Taken

Robert Frost, 1874 – 1963

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;


Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,


And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.


I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Photo by Oliver Roos on Unsplash


Border Crossings

Dear Sor Juana,

Every time I go cross a border I wonder if I am brave enough to put down my occupation as poet or pilgrim or even writer. My wondering stops when I enter something more benign and less exotic like social worker or administrator. I’ve been tempted to put policy wonk, facilitator, adventurer, mother, daughter, wife or sister as well. And I also wonder why it seems to stump me each time. Being named by others is one thing, naming yourself is another.

The everyday borders we cross down our street where we are a neighbour, resident, postcode denoting more variables about who we might be, let in potential myths or half-truths as well. Getting on and off at various train stations can even bring definition to our status and have qualities bestowed upon us. There are many markers.

I prefer a more chameleon like existence, not always so clearly defined and a bit fudgy around the edges, being able to melt into places, spaces and conversations and I especially like the element of surprise I might bring. Like poetry, a little twist in the tale, can open up a new possibility and provide an insight, liberate an idea that might have been germinating in the darkness. Your response Sor Juana to your critics was to become silent and that would have been a huge surprise as you were feigned for what your vocalised in your poems, plays, letters and teachings. Joining the convent to avoid marriage and to continue your studies, and then applying your learning to address the authorities of the church were also skilful manoeuvres to stay true to your own naming of yourself as a writer and thinker.

Passing through the real and metaphorical borders with grace and grit, whatever name we are given or give ourselves, calls us to an inner stillness to our truest self and that may well cause us to hold the moment with silence.


Each Step

Dear Sor Juana

The year is unfolding and this time next week I will be far from my homeland close the heart of common origins we share as daughters in the Roman tradition. Preparations for this journey have been slower than most and the whole picture is yet to be fully developed although the colours are beginning to come to life.

Preparation is also the journey – a readiness to hold ambiguity, being open to surprises, awe and wonder – along the way is the task of any pilgrim. Each day is part of the journey and fidelity to each walk each day as a pilgrim means I have to take those steps on foot. Being in the open air, under the sky, with the sounds of the cities, towns, and the quiet spaces along the way all around me. Allowing myself to be infused by the aromas of coffee shops, bakeries, blossoms alongside of nicotine, exhaust fumes and smoke from fires. Remaining open is my daily quest.

You struggled Juana with arrogance and ahh I know that feeling well (especially in moments where I am sure I am surrounded by feeble minded, lily-livered, fearful creatures who don’t know what courage is!) So to remain open and humble is my prayer this week as I take steps to keep grounded and remind myself that preparing slowly is also a journey.

As Robert Frost said the road less travelled by makes a difference every day, so my road less travelled is inviting me to humility and to slow down. Finding a different way to walk has been very real for me this past week or more as I injured my left foot in play and it is now in constant conversation with the rest of my body at one point reminding time to put my feet up and at other times to walk on through the pain, and in doing both finding new ways to tread at all times carrying the consequences of play that brings pain.  Keep walking and keep playing as the path once walked is behind me and the one ahead calls me to tread differently.



The road in the end taking the path the sun had taken,
into the western sea, and the moon rising behind you
as you stood where ground turned to ocean: no way
to your future now but the way your shadow could take,
walking before you across water, going where shadows go,
no way to make sense of a world that wouldn’t let you pass
except to call an end to the way you had come,
to take out each frayed letter you brought
and light their illumined corners, and to read
them as they drifted through the western light;
to empty your bags; to sort this and to leave that;
to promise what you needed to promise all along,
and to abandon the shoes that had brought you here
right at the water’s edge, not because you had given up
but because now, you would find a different way to tread,
and because, through it all, part of you could still walk on,
no matter how, over the waves.

– David Whyte


Shoe Tree Wanilla


New Shoes

10 days ago

Any self respecting pilgrim would have left their shoes at the end of their journey. I left mine in Ennis, County Clare. I first put them on when I started going to the gym, almost five years ago, intent on keeping fit enough so that I would be able to be physically and mentally prepared for mid-life and beyond.  The shoes served me well and were obviously good value for money!  They took me to the gym three or four times a week, to the Willunga Farmers Market most Saturday mornings, to countless short trips to familiar places, to far off lands and to the shores of oceans and streams.

After being on The Burren I knew I was going to say goodbye to them in Clare. And with that goodbye,  I would but some new ones in the new world of Dubai on the way home. And that is what I did.

This new journey warrants new shoes.  Ironically the ones I left behind were designed for walking and the label on this new shoe box says they  are designed for running!  I wonder if the shoes are being prophetic?

I thanked the shoes for carrying me this far and explained to them they had done a great job and their wear and tear was evidence of that. The right shoe had lost all its stitching on the toe perhaps channelling the number of times I have wanted to kick someone or something in or out of my way.
My new shoes were bought at one of the many temples to mammon in Dubai during Ramadan – an oxymoron to this reluctant shopper. Dubai is as far as any one could get from Patrick McCormack and the farmers in Clare.
The shoes will need to be broken in and I will reluctantly be back at the gym in a few days  and maintain my original intention and if the shoes are prophetic I will need to be ready.
I come to the end of these 30 days home and rested with the sounds of the pigeons in the distance, hearing The Ashes and with soup bubbling on the stove to comfort and reassure that I am indeed home in body and soul and ready with my new shoes for the next steps on this pilgrimage.
Dear Hildegard, I have just read what I wrote ten days ago; and it has taken me until today to put on my new shoes. Yesterday there was the most glorious of sunrises and Brother Sun was telling me very clearly it is time to start again!
I think my procrastination is about not wanting the old journey or my holiday to end. But this day has come and on they went. One foot in front of the other the only way to walk – baby steps first.  I am remembering the instruction of The Burren, carefully watching where I am going; being mindful to the hidden holes; enjoying the flat land as a moment to relax vigilance and to test the rock for movement first before completely committing to the stride.  The Burren is a challenging spiritual director.  My new shoes will carry me to new territories and help me through familiar ones as well. They will need to be prepared for times when my reluctance will need to be met with patience.  They will need to be ready for times of both safari and pilgrimage.
When the time comes for these shoes to be rested I will have taken them to who knows where and whatever paths I find myself on with them I hope they serve me as well as the old ones.  So in the spirit of John O’Donohue who, it is claimed, could bless a carburettor and bring divinity to the moment, I have been self indulgent and written a little blessing for myself and my new shoes.
Blessing for the Pilgrim’s New Shoes
May the left shoe lead you to clear horizons.
May the right shoe follow in even time.
May they both hold you firmly
May they help you walk; and climb.
May they cup your feet so you feel grounded.
May they hold your ankles so you do not trip.
May they take you near and far
May they help you run; and skip.
May you always know to thank them,
For accompanying you along the way;
And may you let them bring you home safely,
At the end of every night and day.

Morning 25 July 2013

Morning over Willunga 25 July 2013

Sand dunes

I have no idea, Hildegard how the Desert Mothers and Fathers survived out in the heat and the dust! But I did get a glimpse this week of the instruction they might have received by the desert. The sand dunes shift with the winds, ever changing, yet always there. They can’t be tamed or told to sit still, they are restless to be on the breath of God in the ancient land around the Gulf.

Being in Dubai is about as far away from Patrick McCormack in County Clare as humanly possible. It is a place bustling with commerce and aching to be the Hong Kong of the region and it will achieve its ambition very soon. It probably already has in terms of wealth per person! A true melting pot which also has remnants of the baron Star Wars that Jabba the Hut liked to business in- it that is unfair because in this season of Ramadan generosity and courtesy abound in the over 43 degree Celsius temperatures. I think Dubai is what Venice was like five hundred years ago.

Making this my last stop on this pilgrimage provided a hidden meaning not revealed until I got on the plane. I was sat next to a sixteen year old woman who was beautifully adorned in her best clothes, with hands painted and a silver chain holding her veil in place. She was flying for the first time – her only other flight being completed several hours before to get her to Dubai. She had begun her journey though years before fleeing war in the horn of Africa. This night she was going to meet her father and be reunited with other members of her family, her mother placing her on the plane – what a heart wrenching experience that would have been for her mother. She wasn’t sure if she would remember what her father looked like. She told me her name and it means harmony. I thought this was a beautiful present for me to receive – to have harmony sitting next to me!

She asked for my help to fill in the necessary arrival forms and to help her make a phone call to her father if he wasn’t there. I was sure he would be waiting for her at the other end. She completed her form without my help and I just checked it – for her occupation she wrote the word refugee. As it was Ramadan she was fasting and I explained the time zones so she could decide when it would be time to break her fast. The airline was very supportive.When we touched down I said: “Welcome to Australia”. I felt honoured to be the one to be able to say that, knowing full well that she will not experience this welcome everywhere she goes.

When we arrived into Adelaide, we walked together but had to part ways at immigration. After what seemed to me an eternity she came through and I helped her collect her bags as she had requested my assistance in this. All her worldy goods in two bags. The customs officer ushered us through and separated us again. And again I ached hoping there would be no more barriers to her making this journey. Again I had to go on ahead without her.

I emerged from the womb of the customs hall to the usual signs of families with Welcome Home signs, chauffeurs waiting to collect their charges and the promise of tears and hugs. My love was waiting for me and into his arms I was very well received.

I waited to see her emerge too, so that I could be sure that one of the pods of family group belonged to her and her to them. I didn’t have to wait long – she was greeted with great joy – the last of her siblings to come to Australia – having been waiting for more than seven years. I could see an older man and a young man holding her tightly. They were not going to let her go. I watched at distance in tears – witness to a moment that had taken years to be born.

She had told me, on the plane, that she had prayed to her God that she would have help to make this last part of her journey and that God had answered her prayer because I had helped her with her forms. I was the one who had been transformed though, her refugee status serving to support my pilgrimage home. I decided to say goodbye and walked over to her family and shook her fathers hand and looked into his eyes and wished him well. I did the same to her. I was weeping for their joy.

As our car left the carpark, we drove past them walking to their vehicle and there were smiles all round and a final wave between us all. My first thoughts were to her mother back in Nairobi who would be glad of the safe delivery of her child and also no doubt desperately sad for the separation as well.

The sand dunes of their lives and of mine, constantly shifting and moving, taking us further on in new paths, the wind blowing away the tracks of what has gone before. The roller coaster of traversing the ups and downs; the hidden depths and spaces that the dunes offer as you ride them on safari. A safari I have learnt is from Swahili meaning overland journey and is also from Arabic safarīya, meaning from safara to travel. A safari of this outer kind – and overland journey truly came together with the inward journey of pilgrimage in the last moments of my travels.

My 30 days are now at an end with last few days being at home. I unpack, wash my clothes, distribute some gifts, reconnect with those I love, send messages of thanks and support along the way, recast my net and give gratitude for both safari  and pilgrimage – the overland and inward journey of this time.

Sand dune Safari