Once the new year came
in a traffic jam, at Borneo's mouth,
when the crowds who'd fled early to escape the rush
now bid each other a happy one
between their cars across the street.
Another time it came while I
and a friend were lost in the midst of things,
driving from one house to another where
the champagne was chilled
and the view guaranteed.
Instead we drove
through a ditch and came
out at a set of lights where the lights
skipped across the shop rooftops.
Now I try convincing my
three boys that there's no party on,
while they fight through bedtime, crazed
from a day of irregular food and cars.
And where many can't wait to see it go
and say good riddance to the year that's been,
I suspect I'll say good night and catch
the fireworks from my sleep.
But after years and years and years
of deserts, each new year the same,
fighting to smile while others raved,
to see the evening slip to sleep
while my children slowly do the same,
I cannot say good riddance, only,
Thank You, thank You Lord.
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.
…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.