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.
What the day brings is anyone's guess:
Students in masks, temperature checks at the front gate,
But what else? Prognoses and rules change by the minute;
What yesterday was harmless today may destroy.
Brave new day that has such features in it.
And so, the day lying open
Like a box, like a question,
I rejoice to see vermilion horizon
That smiles on the locked-down and the risen alike.
This morning a bird I could not name
spanned a sun I could not tame
and on the road the dazzled day
turned and turned its winding way.
Through chicanes, past milkbars ran
the path to work, the time to plan,
but I was struck by birds in view
on Kookaburra Avenue.
And God I'm sure made birds to fly
both for their sake, and yours and mine.
In dying days we see these dreams
and wait for life to burst its seams.
In ordinary time we catch
the moment when we see the latch
of heaven's door creak open, wide.
Wipe dust from street; come, come inside.
All day the hazardous haze,
yesterday too. I feared to take
the children outside; even the garden
was clothed in the smoke of elsewhere on fire.
we saw the world,
a greenbluebrown orb of God’s grace
heaving with the death of it
and caught the surge
through smoke-drunk eucalypts
of a day that will come yet bids us fight
for the day when we’re no longer burning.
On days of frustration, beware
the futile fury that burns
when queues are as long as red tape
and parking spaces are few.
On days when nothing’s achieved, beware
the muted rage that despises the stranger
for taking your place in a lane or a line,
that resents the day for passing.
On these dog days of shopping malls,
keep your eye upon the prize.
A broken heart He won’t despise,
and the day has grace for us all.
Sow a seed and water soil;
give thanks for sun and everyone:
the ones that drive you out of self,
that thwart your ticked To-Dos.
Brave the crowd at Centrelink;
Futility destroys the proud.
Remember now, you are not king.
Crown mercy in this day.
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.
Dance the night amidst the mist and
hover cloud above the earth;
sing the streets in silent vigil,
sleep the world aright.
Water soil, the dew of nighttime,
watch the sleeping grasses grow;
let the nocturne song surround you
as you come and go.
Rain falls on the just and unjust;
nighttime falls on both.
Woken by the same song’s sunshine,
lift us both to grace.
This next question from the New City Catechism is a hard pill to swallow. It touches on what for me has long been one of the toughest questions of faith: the doctrine of election. The Bible is full both of invitations for all to come and also clear teaching that not all will come, and indeed that God has chosen for some not to come to Him. It can turn our heads and hearts inside out as we wrestle with it, yet in this poem I have tried to focus myself – and, I pray, you as you read it – on the goodness of God which shines through all these struggles through the gifts of common grace.
Are all people, just as they were lost through Adam, saved through Christ?
No, only those who are elected by God and united to Christ by faith. Nevertheless God in his mercy demonstrates common grace even to those who are not elect, by restraining the effects of sin and enabling works of culture for human well-being. (New City Catechism)
that some are lost.
that grace has cost.
our minds to know
that not all shall be saved.
shines through it all:
makes and rules
in spite of all
the dirt, the sin we wrought.
in this is peace.
with broken minds
can hope or need to do.
What does God require in the ninth and tenth commandments?
Ninth, that we do not lie or deceive, but speak the truth in love. Tenth, that we are content, not envying anyone or resenting what God has given them or us.
(New City Catechism)
The one beside you in the field, who labours with hands just like yours, with soul and breath, desires like yours, the one who eats like you – the one who, born beneath the same sun and stars – he too requires the truth which holds you in its stead and says what is and how. The one who has a wife like you, husband, children, dreams like you, the one who sweats and sleeps like you and eats bread like you eat – the one who opens hopeful palms, expectant of his daily bread – must love and must be loved like you; his heart beats much like yours. These yearly, daily, hourly gifts of rain on just, unjust alike cut through your skin-deep, fence-post heart to veins that bleed like yours.
February now over, it is time to offer one final celebration of Les Murray’s poetry, before moving onto our next – and final – poet in the 12 Poets Project. Here is a short reflection on some of the qualities I value most in Murray’s work. I hope it is a fitting conclusion to our month spent in his work.
And as March gets under way, it will soon be time for us to open up the work of a quite unexpected poet: former Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, the Welsh-born theologian and writer Rowan Williams. I first encountered Williams’ affinity with poetry through his translations of his eighteenth-century countrywoman Ann Griffiths’ work, only to find that he had written much of his own. I am looking forward to sharing it, and my responses to it, with you this month.