My eldest gathers an ecosystem of treasures
like a store of botanical specimens for the apocalypse, or
a nest for lockdown hibernation.
And I, wandering with him and his brothers,
viewing the world like they do, at ground level or just above,
begin to spy jungles, mini-forests, whole worlds,
grooves and knots, stalactites of sap,
and breathe Thankyou
with the air
that still pushes my lungs to live.
…you will not find my actual life in these pages so much as my thoughts on the graces Our Lord has given me. I have reached the stage now where I can afford to look back; in the crucible of trials from within and without, my soul has been refined, and I can raise my head like a flower after a storm and see how the words of the Psalm have been fulfilled in my case: “The Lord is my Shepherd and I shall want nothing…”
St Thérèse of Lisieux, The Story of a Soul
My brother led me to prayer,
a child, afraid in the dark.
My sister taught me, downcast, to say,
Why so downcast, O my soul?
My parents taught me to ask and search
yet not be controlled by the heart’s wild waves.
My teachers fed my questions
and books sustained my mind.
Lewis taught me magic
and Love deep, deep in time.
Robert Frost was early rhythm;
Eliot and Herbert came later on.
Auden taught me the happy eye,
the sober perspective on the folded lie,
Kierkegaard the lily’s glory
and the grace that strikes in anxious thought.
Bunyan and Luther and Thérèse
knew the scruples that strike, and the way –
the Little Way at Jesus’ feet –
so once again I’m led to pray.
My wife has taught me the open heart;
now my home and hearth expand.
O Love that finds me everywhere:
Thank You. Thank You. Thank You.
It’s become a bit of a tradition for me to write gratitude lists on my birthday, yet each year it feels like I am discovering gratitude anew. While I always remember doing it the previous year, it never comes naturally to me. Instead, I find myself thinking that another strategy might be better this year – something productive like counting how many birthday wishes I get on Facebook each hour. Yet each year my need for gratitude keeps emerging; each year I have to remind myself of how much I have to be thankful for.
But this year I have Jonas Petersen (aka Hymns From Nineveh) to thank for reminding me that the best kind of gratitude doesn’t focus on what we have, because possessions are temporary and so often only make us want to acquire more. Instead, I want to do what Jonas does in this glorious, Ecclesiastes-like song of his: to “make a list of unownable things that make me happy”. Which is what, on this wet wintry Melbourne birthday morning, I will now do.
I am sooner
possessed than possessing.
Not ownership, for
I am owned by what
I long for.
the rain, which is ours,
falls now on this just and unjust day.
line our street with their dancing,
speckle pavement with green dust.
of all bodies, the truth
that the sun animates the clouds,
conviction that today we live
for each other:
all common graces
on this day of salvation.
All gift that cannot be owned.
Gratitude begets gratitude, just as love begets love.
(Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved)
That I am begotten by love,
That my heart beats
And my feet move
That the air is rich
For me to breathe
That love is patient,
That love is kind
That I can know
What goodness is
That I have companions
Beside my walk
That song is true
(Only hear the birds!)
That the world is full
Of light, of play
That I have climbed
Mountains and trees
That my eyes receive
The signals of life
That yellow flowers I cannot name
Line my road, my way
That I can talk for hours
That I am small
And He is not
That language is beauty
And also meaning
That I have never suffered
As I should
That again the sun has chosen
That I must never
That I have been given
Home and name
That I belong
Where I am found
That sun and rain
Are common gifts
(That roads are built
That we may walk
And we may sit
That even sparrows have a home
(How much more I, a child of grace?)
That I am held
In arms like His
That hope is stored
Where none can harm
That life is hid,
Yet lived today
That I can look up to a sky
And think – Sublime!
That all this glory
Is yours and mine
That in these thirty-two years of grace
It is not I but Him –
For this and more,
Tenth birthday, and the Titanic sinks
On a screen, the largest in
The southern hemisphere,
Drifting down beneath the waves,
Wreckage waiting, submarines
Plumbing depths to find its jewels,
Then sunlight after deep marine,
The exit into daylight scenes
And Dreamworld rides and cake,
With me, crestfallen, eagerness
Sublimated in this breeze,
This vapour recognition.
Today is my birthday, and as I have approached this day I have thought about Psalm 116:12, which asks, “How can I repay the Lord for his goodness to me?” I have written a poem to reflect on this thought – inspired by Christina Rossetti’s lovely poem, “A Birthday“. I hope you enjoy reading it.
My heart set me off on this life
But grace’s pulse is all I know;
My feet soon learned to rise and walk
But grace is the path, wherever I go.
And as my mind has grown to think,
My tongue has learned to teach and wound.
My God, Your grace is everything:
How merciful the sound.
My steps have learned soon to be false
But righteousness has followed me;
My heart has blocked up my own breath
But love has flowed, a cleansing sea.
A covenant from birth to death
Has held me in its open palm.
My God, my life flows out in praise;
You hold me in Your arm.