Today would have been the 100th birthday of one of the most important people in my life: my maternal grandfather James Savage, known to his friends as Jim and to me and my cousins as Pep. Born in 1921 to an Irish Australian father and Scottish Australian mother, he grew up in working-class Sydney during the Depression, and the death of his father when he was nine due to the after-affects of mustard gas in the trenches of WWI saw his mother raise him and his two sisters alone with very little to live on. When she remarried and he clashed with his step-father he ran away to fight in WWII, flying in Number 10 Squadron with the RAAF. Returning to Sydney after the war, he eventually started working for a photographic company and as a result also became a respected photographer, especially for his architectural work for the National Trust. Forced to leave school young, he never realised his desire to be a History teacher but he inspired me with four of his great loves: history, great books, good tea (always Twinings) and photography.
Pep piled photographic equipment on me like he showered me with books. He introduced me to Dickens, Orwell, Camus, Brave New World, Joyce and Hemingway. And he taught me something that never made sense to me at the time: a picture needs something to hang its hat on. An enthusiastic reader of early Richard Dawkins and angry at the Catholic Church of his childhood, Pep subscribed to the “blind watchmaker” view of the cosmos, but believed up to his death that God was love and saw order and beauty in nature that was not easily explained by his scientific determinism. The way I look at the world has my grandfather’s stamp on it. When I see a dazzling array of light and grab my phone to capture it, Pep has prompted that sense in me. When I photograph an interesting doorway or the curious shape of a tree, Pep again. He taught me to see all the places where God hangs His hat in the world’s form and wonder, though he would never have put it that way.
Bible scholar John Walton speaks of the seven days of creation as a process of God building a home for Himself. The first six days He spends ordering His home. On the seventh day, He comes inside, hangs up His hat, switches on the lights and puts His feet up. In every arm-like tree bough I see God carving a dwelling for Himself with us. I do not know where my grandfather stood before His creator when he died – in his last days he took great comfort in remembering the Lord’s Prayer – but I know that he taught me how to see God’s world with an eye attentive to beauty and order. And my faith is the richer for it.
Distance disturbs my orientation.
When I calculate how long it takes
from A to B, I live inside
my cosy lie
that B is only down the street,
that all my life can be spanned by feet.
But freeway exits dominate.
I name streets and suburbs like family,
yet these are not local,
only your garden beside me
and your never-known name.
I would rest here and learn the generations;
too long I’ve lived in wandering,
too long been east of home.
Yet A to B has distance
until distance is gone.
If it would still be meaningful to say, There are an infinite number of universes – if their profound otherness did not embarrass even the language of Being itself…if something we could discern and recognise as intelligent life were to occur in certain of these other realities, might we not learn that our notions of intelligence were, so to speak, parochial?
(Marilynne Robinson, Absence of Mind)
You might think it would humble us to know
at the end of all our knowing that, for all
this knowing, we are immeasurably small.
You might think the sheer expanse, the sheer scope
of all that we name Universe might blow
our very sense of union. That we call
"known" what keeps evading scientific thrall
(after all our knowing) only goes to show
that, while we think we can admire stars,
they do not give a damn. We are in truth
the dots beneath their microscope.
What are we
that we are mindful of ourselves? By far
better than knowing is to be known,
beneath an ancient love we cannot see.
No twinkle. This is something terrible:
Flaming gas, explosive with bright thunder.
Scan the night sky, make a wish and wonder;
Yet it can destroy galaxies at will.
At will, He directs it. See it twinkle
Before Him, docile, obedient under
His hand. It knows His voice which flung unto
The farthest reaches, blazing, blazing, until –
He beckons in; He ushers out. All time
Is planned, is held in hand. And now He holds
That star – yes, that resplendent ball of flame,
From countless blazing sentries known by name,
From centuries, millennia untold,
And places it just so within His rhyme.
What hope does everlasting life hold for us? It reminds us that this present fallen world is not all there is; soon we will live with and enjoy God forever in the new city, in the new heaven and the new earth, where we will be fully and forever freed from all sin and will inhabit renewed, resurrection bodies in a renewed, restored creation. (New City Catechism)
When the door swings out and, face-to-face we realise
all our clutching life could only mimic, never be,
we shall not fall
for all our walking here has been stumbling.
Now we stumble –
for who wouldn’t, when wandering in cloud?
Then we shall move
in the fluency of union,
life itself again – no shadow –
and never will we grasp for knowing
that we are held
Hold tight. Hold me tight:
what coverings I have sought,
cannot disguise my nakedness.
My shame burns garments – yet
You clothe in righteousness.
Hold me tight; You are enough,
yet I am afraid, and turn
to fig-leaves when rightly I should
bathe myself in You.
O Lamb, my joy, my garment of blood,
O hold me tight.
…The notion of some infinitely gentle
Infinitely suffering thing.
– T.S. Eliot, “Preludes”
I will be late for work:
the traffic tells me so,
and Adam's curse run deep in roads
too busy to know their name.
Beaten by roadside lies the debris
and dust of abandoned schedules: here
someone burst a tyre, there
a jerry-can was left, there some refuse
of a long-forgotten breakfast.
Why do wild flowers speak
in pitches more alive to me?
Pointed, they dance in the breeze:
small, white-purple flecks of something else,
another time, another Where.
Yet life is lived on roads,
and time is stretched in tyre-marks
to places where we'd rather be.
Wake up. Gratitude's an act of grace
and this day is thick with its potential.
Nothing's lived except when it harkens
to all that defies it,
and all that belies it.
If the day begins thus, then let it, and listen:
this is where you must now be.