Through the ninety-something days of Lent and Easter this year I set myself the discipline of taking a photo each day and posting it with a spiritual reflection. It was an enormous task and one that I often regretted setting for myself. But it began to do something in me that has continued now that Easter season is over: it introduced me to a practice that I’m calling “devotional seeing”. It taught my eyes to look each day for the signs of God in the small and ordinary things of my day. And, as the church year moves into the long ordinary of Ordinary Time I’m feeling that it’s something I need to continue. In fact, as my city puts its masks back on and returns, after months of zero cases, to watch the case numbers rise again, I want all the more to remind myself of God’s graces in the small and ordinary. So I’m going to keep up my devotional seeing, by sharing a weekly thought – each Wednesday – accompanied by an image from the day. Feel free to join me if it’s something you’re after too. Let’s go hunting for the open heart of God wherever it can be found.
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.
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.
began with honeysuckle and clover,
the constants of the winter yet
rendered more redolent by the scents of September
and a bee buzzing about a flowering cactus
and ended with a downpour
that sent me rushing to the clothesline
while my son stood in his raincoat and listened
to the rain
with all things – rain, sun, bee,
child and flowers – held in the same sentence
and each given its time.
In hard rubbish week, while the street is lined
with broken couches and abandoned TVs,
someone has shredded a phone book, leaving
white and yellow pages like autumn leaves
all down Grandview Street. Some pages
have drifted into gardens, some
line the pavement or the nature strip.
Some look like a wild animal has gone to town,
some as though an angry child has destroyed
all evidence that the rest of the world exists.
If pieced together, they would make names:
Michael who cleans the pool, and Vince
who’ll re-gas the aircon if you ask.
Wanton destruction, this shredding of leaves.
The names are torn; the refuse remains,
and their lives clamour down the street to be known
while memories too are thrown away,
with all the things that we just outgrew.
I missed a day. Too busy with carols and attempts
to put my son to sleep, I slept
that second Advent Sabbath night
forgetting to rest, forgetting to write.
Rest slips past us now. Today I forgot also
to drink water, to eat. Now waiting
in queues I regret this forgetting.
The time we save now we pay later in kind;
rushing heart never won, only pounded.
What now? I sit thirsty, side-by-side in this waiting,
social security numbers like Augustus’s census,
no room anywhere. Wait,
weak heart, wait.
Never here normally – not at this time,
when people whose lives have rhythms different to mine
disembark into days of meetings, close shaves
and private experiences in close-huddled streets.
Never here normally.
My day is suburban. My schedule’s the school bell.
On other days I walk with books and lesson plans in hand;
today the day is open.
Yet before the city opens
I’ll wander with these strangers
through a city waking up,
a thousand thoughts at traffic lights
blinking slow while phones alert,
and uniforms announce the trade
of souls whose days are not like mine.
Huddled in sleeping bags beneath the eaves;
scarf-clad, suit-clad, hi-vis: all this
says nothing more than glance can catch.
Catch this: the passing self,
the teenage dreams now thumbed to text,
executives touch-typing stress,
the arguments, the expectant dad,
these other selves not normal here.
What’s normal here? These souls whose days
are not – are just like mine.
True – but the wait weighs heavily now.
So many delays, and you can expect
more road blocks through the coming weeks
as rolling closures right across the north-west
make violent signs of little worth.
Light and momentary?
Perhaps; so, at least, we trust,
yet faith not sight must rule the game
if there’s to be more than witches’ hats
and traffic jams to show.
Yet think: soon, one day soon,
when the barriers roll back
and new lanes are revealed – then,
perhaps, we will say it was worth the wait.
Better by far the day when all roads,
all stones, will give way
to say, Make way.
Make eternal the way;
light now is momentary, yet when it dawns
none of our roadblocks will stand.
...the war he brought back with him is never far away in this suburb.
(Steven Carroll, The Gift of Speed)
Do you remember water from the rock?
How you quarried homes in this ancient soil,
when these broad meadows were the stuff of dreams?
Remember when the men came back
from years and years of wandering,
said, This is it, we’ll build it here,
and none of Egypt’s garlicked meat
could appetise their hearts away?
I was young. I don’t recall,
and was not there for much, or all.
But in the now, with homes all here,
the time is right to know again
what wilderness felt like.
What a discrepancy between
the joyful winging of birds
and the fear in men and women…
(Jean Vanier, The Broken Body)
And how one cricket starts
a neighbourhood symphony
in the grass of our roaming
near the concrete of our homing
in these streets and these footpaths
at a Friday-pink dusk
while the street in its silence
has houses and heartbeats
(through one window, hear dishes;
through another, hear Dickhead
be shouted – no reason);
and the moon in gauze sleeping
says, Here’s to a safe night,
watch over us, dusty
from the day, cool from night
watch our wandering, half-hoping,
down these byways and laneways,
all these avenues of grace.