Tag Archives: Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz

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.











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?
















Pencils and Tea for the Tillerman

Dear Sor Juana

I got our my pencils for the first time in years and have packed them into my bag, in anticipation of using them. They might stay there the whole weekend, they might not. I might sharpen them, I might arrange them as a spectrum, I might remember what it felt like to hold them last time we were together. These inanimate objects beckoning me are now packed away and I can hear them buffing up against books in my back pack and they will be vying for attention when I reopen my bag in a Kath and Kim kind of way saying “look at me”!

We put things down and take up them again, seasonal crop rotation.

There are poems and stories to be written, books, incubating on note pads, backs of tickets and shopping dockets, scraps here and there patiently waiting for the moment they will be birthed. The wait is longer than any elephant’s pregnancy. And now pencils are going into my backpack.   Perhaps this is a prelude, perhaps it is displacement, perhaps it is avoidance …. perhaps it is the persistence of pencils to be reunited on a page.

Harvest comes from seed sown in the dark.

First the soil must rest before the tilling can start and so the pencils will clear away some of the rocks and rubble, make space for the tears to fall on the page and water the ground. There will be deep breaths and sighs, a union of sorts between the elements and the body and then there will be space for the tilling and picking over the landscape. The pencils will be satisfied and eventually there will be tea for the tiller man in the kitchen. Cat Stevens will be wafting in the background while we remember who we were in another season and who we will become in the next. The page, white and virginal will be consecrated once the flirting and sidling up are over.

Advent is just around the corner, incubation after annunciation, labour pains before birth.


Dear Sor Juana,

A good night’s sleep is a blessing, coming as it does in the form of closed lids relaxed against the eye, body limp, heart beating to the rhythm of rest, the Goldilocks room temperature a lullaby to the senses. Ahh!

To wake in the morning with the rays tinkling the louvers, inviting the day into the room and caressing those same lids to gently unfold is the blessing of the good night’s sleep.

I have taken to asking people how they are sleeping lately as a metric to how they are going … it has been projection on my part as my sleep pattern has been disturbed by bumps in the night lately. It is interesting how people are so readily able to join in this conversation and reveal what is happening in their waking hours from what happens when their body is lying between sheets while their minds work through the day. The sleep inducing laundry list includes elixirs from tea to alcohol, prescribed drugs, needles with tonics, breathing exercises, long walks, meditation, bathing, music. The gift of sleep in a babe for new parents has a bounty and gazing at a sleeping child is a balm for any exhausted mother.

What keeps you awake at night? is an oft asked question in my work with decision-makers, advisors and guides. I am now asking how are you sleeping at night and this is revealing how people are managing, coping, reflecting and integrating themselves into their challenges.

I am kept awake by the banshees creeping under the gap in the door closed shut stealing breaths and forcing their way through ever growing constricted airways of my love. I sleep in the promise of the new day bringing grit, grace and gratitude. With the help of others, my sleep is improving. Sleep is a gift and it is received with thanks.

St Elias - Patron Saint of Sleep

St Elias – Patron Saint of Sleep


Dear Sor Juana,

You turned to your books and your telescopes to fuse past and the future and maybe in those moments of silence your presence to the present. Each moment is its own unique distillation – kairos. Kairos is the supreme and opportune moment where chronological time is banished and where every moment is like a time lapse that can fly in any direction in time and space (it is the Tardis timepiece for our fictional time traveller Dr Who). Kairos teaches us about the essence of being able to live in the moment, in the confidence that each one of those granular moments is the season for everything.

I have never done well at keeping to anyone else’s timelines and very happy to let the universe unfold as it should, while savouring what can be savoured from the gift of each day and the promise of what is yet to come. The pilgrim’s journey is one where every step is both a standing still, holding on and moving forward action, all at the same time. Being able to hold the space that takes us to a new place and on a trajectory to presence is a discipline.

When our species was more hunter-gatherer we followed the food and followed the seasons, foraging and finding what we needed where we walked and looked to the stars and the sun to guide us. Kairos happened when you held your arrow, found the berry and made camp each night. The partnership of hunter and gatherer kept communities alive and brought life to the fire with mythological tales and everyday news. Trust was high, everyone knew their role and how to support the community on the road during the day and how to celebrate around with the stories, golden threads, woven, keeping them altogether.

How we make these stories now, know our roles and develop our deep understanding of our place in kairos (as opposed to chronological time) is a noble quest. It is not trivial and at its deepest having a bigger story, bigger agenda, bigger brain thinking and a bigger heart beating will bring us to our essence. The pilgrim has a lot to learn from the hunter-gatherer time – gently stalking then capturing the stories and possibilities to be shared with the wider group; scanning the landscape picking up clues for hunter, building the fire and gathering up the remains of the day, knowing where the greenest shoots are and what fruits are in season ready to be picked. The dance of mother nature with us, more co-creating than conspiratorial, the unfolding visible once we take the moment as kairos. No doubt Sor Juana, you would have studied Aristotle and his schema for rhetoric where for him kairos was that moment in time and space when all was revealed and proof was made visible, where proof was previously hidden.

I am reminded by the Jewish parable of the two sisters Truth and Story, where Truth was reviled when walking through her town naked, yet when Story cloaked her she was accepted and welcomed – no one likes the naked Truth, but when wrapped in Story, it becomes a thing of beauty and something we can all appreciate. Perhaps, this is what happens in kairos – time stands still and the space is held and beautiful truths are revealed. These are glorious moments when the scales fall away, the sun shines, stars twinkle and there is an alignment of the planets. So here’s to hunters and gatherers, and stories bringing more kairos to pilgrims for every indivisible step.

Kairos as portrayed in a 16th-century fresco by Francesco Salviati

Kairos as portrayed in a 16th-century fresco by Francesco Salviati


Dear Sor Juana,

No doubt you would have read the daily scriptures as part of your practice to set your path and provide inspiration for reflection and a line from one such piece has been rattling around in my head:

And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Luke 9:58

The idea of nests and holes has struck me as being the same. The comfort of being held in the sanctuary of a place prepared and nurtured by loving partners for life to commence and then for a fledgling to grow before being evicted to take to the wing; and the place in the dark, the den of the underground home of the sleek and sneaky predator coming out in the night to steal and thieve. Two great cosmic archetypes: light and dark, sky and earth, juxtaposed with the Divine choosing neither to find rest. Instead only the present is being offered: the here, the now.

This line is preceded by an instruction to a potential follower, to leave the dead to bury the dead, something I have often thought of as a little harsh. Compassion for self might indeed be the instruction here: to be present to the invitation to come follow and bring yourself to the moment on offer rather than looking back to what might take you down a hole.

Attaching to thoughts that are dead and yet not being able to let them go completely, just wanting a few more minutes with them to wallow or maybe return to the nest or even find a hole that is magnetically calling you to come down. Saying no to both nests and holes and being the pilgrim to being present to the now can be one hell of a challenge!

What is this place Nowhere? Is it instead the here and now – NowHere?


Dear Sor Juana,

When your best isn’t good enough for what is needed by others or what the situation calls for humility is surely to follow. Often this is the old adage of pride coming before a fall playing out. Knowing when you are out of your depth, when to ask for help, when to step aside or to step away is also courageous. Melting down the pain and embarrassment may require an alchemist to herald transformation.

And where do we find those alchemists? In the trees, the stars, our gods? I found mine this week in the smile and babble of a babe. The stress, strain and tears melted away transforming broken dreams, tight muscles, a frozen heart.

Every child is an alchemist offering their own kind of magic drawing on the ancient practice of turning base metals into gold, turning base emotions into golden moments. Alchemy manifested in kind words from a friend, blessings of inner peace bestowed, a sip of tea all balm and transformative but nothing compares to babe drawing all the base emotions out with the magnetic power of babbles. Distilled.

The idea of self as a human becoming in contrast to a human being is written into the pilgrim’s map, each step revealing the moment for itself and glimpsing what might be ahead.

While refugees scrabble through the razor wire, Chileans clutch to each other in ruins, sliding doors separate families for generations, I accept the invitation of the babble of a babe to soothe the rough waters I am sailing.

Justice or Just Us?

Dear Sor Juana,

Another week of refugee horror in graphic images shared around the world and our humanity is being tested by a three olds body washed up on the shores of Turkey. Where being silent and speechless might be the most appropriate response, words are flying around the parliaments and press clubs, talk back radio and online. The prophetic voice – the one who speaks their truth to power – can be heard loudly in the silence of the stillness of a tiny body on the sand. The rescue worker who gently reclaimed the child from the sea as poignant as any pieta.

The currency of fear rises in stock value more quickly it seems than the numbers of people fleeing their homeland. From the depths of this ocean of fear and loss, we have innocence and trust to reclaim. I am reminded of the old adage: Justice or Just Us.

The space on the page is the silence to reflect.

I am heading off to Roy’s Retreat Prophet School today at the Welcome Centre to consider my response, my little snowflake to add to the branch which surely must fall from the weight of all the snowflakes of effort to turn the tide.

justice4refugees walktogether

Restoration and Refugees

The steps to the Cathedral in the city are made of slate from the village where I live. At the moment the Cathedral is under renovation. Francis is blowing a gale through the Vatican and all the restoration on the Cathedral will repair the damage done. The chair of this Bishop of Rome is made of something less brittle than slate. It’s a kind of leadership that many have been yearning for, a hark back to the founder of the firm, not an echo from the silence of stone in the empty chambers where pilgrims once filled the pews. Like so many of our institutions, the church is renovating and restoring, and that is not the answer to whatever question they think they are asking. Now is the time to stop conserving heritage listed spaces in our hearts and break open in true Eucharistic fashion the body and blood and spill it onto all the spaces empty of body and soul.   And heaven knows there are so many of those.

The tragedy of people displaced by war, persecution, natural disasters is alarming. In my country the borders of the land are almost as impenetrable as our hearts. Fear and compassion traded blows in the streets of Melbourne yesterday. (I did wonder if anyone from Francis’ team was there – I am sure there would have been a few.) As a young mum I campaigned in the 80s and then into the 90s on issues of refugees and racism. For my efforts, our house was attacked with bricks through the windows of our sleeping children’s home, graffiti on the outside walls of the house, tyres on our car damaged and public vilification and intimidation by a right wing terrorist group. Our phone was tapped and from time to time I am pretty sure I was followed. Acting in solidarity has a price. My efforts were very modest, writing, producing materials and building a community of activists to spread the word in their workplaces, churches, schools and families. I didn’t organise any big rallies and it was long before social media so no flash mob protests were visible. I was under the protection of the Council of Churches and I felt protected by their care for me and for my family. This is the work of communion.

The UN says we have reached 60M people displaced for the first time in history. When I was campaigning it was 15M – the last time it was even close to the number we have now was during the Second World War.

Disrupting traffic is not enough, thoughts and behaviours need to be disrupted. The slate on the Cathedral steps are baying for a new dawn of whole heartedness. My own efforts are almost invisible these days.  I am shaken not stirred by the deaths in Austria in the back of a van, the scenes of children on their parents shoulders at the borders of Greece, the broken bones floating in the seas of the Mediterranean and off our Australian coast …. And the list goes on …

Blessed are you who have a home

               For you shall be invited to open your doors

Blessed are you who have food

               For you shall add another seat to your table

Blessed are you who are safe

                For you shall share your haven

Blessed are you who are leaders

                For you shall serve

Blessed are you who know how to speak to power

               For you shall speak for the powerless

Blessed are you who are fearless

              For you shall give courage to others.