Deprived of the ordinary markings of days -
drives to work, birthdays, people to celebrate -
more fervently to organic signs,
the constant shifts in the garden,
which trees have blossomed,
which ones have leaves,
how tall the pea plant has grown,
how white its petals.
These and the aphids signal time:
those and the snails migrating,
the worms beneath the compost,
the dead bird by the granny flat,
rising and falling daily tallies,
who died youngest, who's all clear
and how long until - we cannot say -
only greet other pilgrims on the way, and pray.
In these days of lockdown (my city, Melbourne, is experiencing the toughest restrictions of anywhere in Australia so far), I have been finding myself drawing increasing inspiration from the small things that I notice in my local environment, looking ever closer and closer to the consolations of the everyday. This video poem came from a moment of stillness while walking my children along the Werribee River, persevering through intermittently heavy rain. May we all keep noticing the small fingerprints of God in the easily missed details of our lockdown lives. Stay safe.
Watchful, I spy the first buds,
now only the flower's potential,
one day, soon - the fruit.
Impatient, I come here
again, again each day
to measure progress in the budding leaf
or to catch
the lemon in the act of ripening,
quince in mid-blossom,
almond in leaf.
Wait, small heart.
It lingers; wait.
The signs are sure
though August is fickle and eyes are sore.
And God has granted each beauty its day;
rest your eyes on this
In Winter's garden bed I saw you,
plucky yet tentative,
white bursting but drooping at the stem,
head bowed in humble prayer,
hopeful of the day to come,
whispering its name.
We still have the river, after it all,
running like a backbone though our home,
flowing sure when all else is gone,
we still have the river, still have the air.
We still have each other, at the end of the day,
grating on nerves, tired and numb,
still have our hearts beating together,
still have our days under the sun.
And when the river and the sun are gone,
when these days are over and done,
we'll still have the one who made rivers flow,
the Light before, after the sun.
Bins at the curb, I pause
in a night of deep quiet
the thought that no-one else is here.
Sleepy suburban street rarely parties;
nights are seldom wild around here.
Yet silence catches with surprise:
no-one walking home from shops,
no night-time joggers,
no cars coming home.
No feet sharing this curb with mine.
And this weekly domestic act becomes
a moment of strange resistance,
a heartbeat-long yearning
to see other neighbours lugging their bins,
to duck down the street to No.16 and say,
"This package is yours. The postie
dropped it here by mistake."
But it's after 8 and I've no mask;
the edge of this block is the wall for my feet.
To love my neighbour tonight is to go
back inside and pray.
Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation…2 Corinthians 6:2
We did not choose you, would not repeat you.
Grief has built upon grief: ash and smoke first,
Then this, a time we can only call
"Unprecedented". And how it goes on,
How quickly "normal" becomes a word
Stripped of all meaning. How quickly "Stay safe"
Replaces "See you later." We saw none
Of this coming. Jetpacks and life on Mars
Were my childhood predictions, not this.
Yet future creeps up unannounced, and we,
Had we heard her coming, would
have moved to
Iceland, or bought shares in hand sanitizer.
Neither would we have chosen growth, or grace
Bulldozing our plans and saving us instead.
"Our one desire and choice should be what is more conducive to the end for which we are created."
St Ignatius of Loyola, The Spiritual Exercises
Even this, Ignatius?
When all are in retreat in their homes,
when consoling and desolating spirits
vy for the attention of every moment,
when truth is in short supply
and what truth we have is despair,
can we catch divine movement behind a face mask,
hear the Spirit call beyond garden walls,
see will and purpose despite ailing hope,
even now can we notice
Christ animate the soul
though it flags and fails?
As the changing but constant expectations
of a year that no-one chose keep knocking
and the day of the Lord lingers and tarries from my watch-post,
to take this one quietly, on the bench,
with Saul and the others who couldn't run the race.
No shame in being worn out when
the swift themselves are flagging
and the flags
are all at half-mast or lower.
No prizes for laps of honour, least of all in a mask.
Preserve breath, preserve what
energy you have left, I say.
Though my words burn and I
would be better served not to speak
but to hear.
A voice like a whisper, like fire,
like a victor:
My yoke is easy. My burden is light.
No shoulders strong enough for burdens today;
even then, there is grace.
First you will learn about smiles,
how much you smile,
what's contained in a smile,
what's implied in the different degrees of smile:
in a curl of the lip at a funny thought,
in the mouth's outstretched corners
to greet the close acquaintance,
in the sardonic phrase,
the empathic moment.
All these things you will learn
when they cannot be seen.
And eyes. You will learn about eyes.
How readily you can recognise eyes
across a courtyard or carpark, how
much you can guess of a heart or a day
from the eyes poking out above the nose.
And breath. You will learn about breath.
You will taste it, smell it, absorb it all day.
You will choose your words and your silence to preserve
moments when you can simply breathe.
You will long to stand
in the garden
beside your office
and do nothing
in that afternoon air
but take off your mask and breathe.
And faces - you will catch, in their absence,
the beauty, the wonder of faces,
the heart-catching, God-splendoured glory of faces.
You will long for the faces
that you loved and despised,
will search the room for these faces,
will wish that these faces
could transfigure their otherness straight into yours.
You will cover your face
and stifle your breath
and halve your smile
in hope of the day,
to work for the day,
when all of our faces are back.