The Dog, the Sun and Me

The machine is full of wet clothes
Time to hang them out
Out there is the sun and the dog.

The dog smiles at me and says, ‘Look at the day.’

She aways says that and so does the sun
Unless one of them has eaten something they shouldn’t have
Like a carcass far too rotten—in the case of the dog, which is pretty rare
Or too much entropy—in the case of the sun, which hasn’t happened yet.

Anyway, there they both are, waiting for me so the three of us can go out.

They wonder why I don’t go out a lot more
There’s so much out there
But most of all there’s me, according to the dog, which the sun is okay with.

Hurt Good

Woiczech (our great uncle in every way)

It’s one of those late night chill-out times in our lounge room, a candle burns on the table and the glass of port feels good in the hand and on the throat. #3 son has just gotten home from work and we’re talking over the day. He tells me about a dumb job they gave him cause he’s new. He explains how he was fully aware that he was being taken advantage of and that they were probably laughing at him but he did it anyway because, as he explained—in their defence—’they were desperate to impress the owners and wanted to make their shop look good, I suppose, an inspection was coming up after all’.

According to one way of thinking he should have quit. ‘No one should put up with being treated like that’ our world says. If it’s unfair, it’s bad; if it hurts, it’s wrong. Call the ‘whoever it is’ and they will fix it for you.

But what if this story isn’t about that? What if the real world is much more like a mysterious mythology in which heroes are not winners, survivors and celebrities but warriors who are learning to master their pride and see themselves as on a quest in which everything that comes their way has some significance. And rather than asking ‘Is it fair?’ ‘Does it hurt?’ we should be asking, ‘Is this a temptation or a gift? An opportunity to serve or to grow in grace?’

Thanks to such mythologies entering our imaginations, life becomes much more than a quest for survival, and instead inspires us to expect a thing we might call a ‘River of Life’ or even a great holy spirit called the Paraclete*: a helper and friend who enables us to become givers of hope and life and grace.

Richard Rohr in his book Falling Upward says that in all the mythologies a deep(and mysterious) wounding is a necessary part of becoming what we are created to be and our refusal to ever allow for anything good in that wounding imperils the possibility of us ‘falling down’ into the deep and healing magic that was there before time began and which enables us to truly become as Jesus said, ‘like gods’.

We are crippled in this journey when we adopt our society’s one dimensional posture of being outraged at anything that is unfair or hurts. But that posture is all that a materialist/secular culture has to offer because of its vested interest in ‘proving that God is stupid’—witness the string of dummy-spitting obscenities that flow on FB when something hurtful or unfair happens to someone. Imagine the main characters doing that in the Odyssey or the Aeneid or Genesis.

Yes, they hedge, they try to outwit the gods and the monsters and they make excuses but they also face the battle like men, as it tells us in the Odyssey when Odysseus tries to win sympathy from Polyphemos, the Cyclops: ‘We are Achaians coming from Troy, beaten off our true course by winds from every direction across the great gulf of the open sea, making for home, by the wrong way, on the wrong courses. So we have come. So it has pleased Zeus to arrange it.’1 Having failed to get sympathy, they plan to fix the problem: ‘ … I told the rest of the men to cast lots, to find out which of them must endure with me to take up the great beam and spin it in the Cyclops’ eye when sweet sleep had come over him.’2 Rather than sit around and feel sorry for himself, Odysseus got on with the business at hand.

The big spiritual secret is that we don’t have to ‘maintain the rage’ at pain. Yes, let the hurt out, face the monsters, face our sin, make our confessions but then open our hand and our heart and let go: put our sense of ‘being shafted’ to the sword and quietly allow these inspired myths to go to work in our imagination—for now our friends are Adam and Eve, Abraham, Odysseus and all the others.

If we refuse we will live our entire life with our hand (and our heart) fiercely closed, like Lilith3, and like Lilith, have no idea of the families, oceans, cities and even nations we might be locking up inside that closed hand all because of our demand that things be fair and non-painful.

* John’s Gospel Chapter 16

1 Odysseus in the Odyssey 9.259-262

2. Odysseus in the Odyssey 9.331-335
3. MacDonald G. Lilith (a mythopoeic fantasy novel)

The Explorer’s Prayer (Communal Version)

‘Today we are on a quest in a beautiful and dreadful jungle called The Universe. Dreadful because, in order for the dignity of love to exist, you took the risk of allowing for hate. Having done that you brought us (and all our fellow humans) out of your very heart. But we fell under a curse and were enslaved until it’s power was broken on a ‘blood stained killing tree’1 by a mysterious lamb that had (paradoxically) been ‘slain from the foundation of the world’2. So it is that this curse no longer has any real power over us, but it does have that last resort of all bitter and defeated foes: mind games, which means we still live with the after-effects of a broken curse.

And then there is the burden of our normal human compassion, which is often appalled, and even furious that you should allow this horror in the first place. But we can’t say you didn’t warn us, and it would appear that—although you yourself have been wounded by it and have drawn the sting into your own body of flesh—the time has not yet come to forever rid the world of these nightmares that seem to roll like loose cannons on deck. So, rather than sit on the fence and wait, we have chosen to ‘bet our lives on one side in this great war’6 and to join with you in the spirit of the following words …

‘Love’s as hard as nails, love is nails
Blunt, thick, hammered through the medial nerves of One Who having made us, knew the thing he had done. Seeing with all that is, our cross—and his.’7

This brings us to the second risk: where we allow what is true to become real in us by surrendering to you, the Great Spirit of Life. For truth un-lived might as well not exist, like a beam of light in space. But it becomes ‘real’ and vibrant, when for example, it surrenders to rain in the sky and colour floods the day, creating something new. So it is, that our obedience to you, rather than being negative and destructive, is a liberating act, which joins us together as co-creators.

We unleash this power now by surrendering to you—the one we are so proud of and absolutely adore—the Messiah of Calvary, knowing that even here we are on dangerous ground, for that word ‘surrender’ invokes grovelling slavery, which is not your way. So we stand in your presence, look to your face, and say with you that this is us going out into this day together. Us and you (the Father, Son and Holy Spirit), preparing this world for the great day of it’s resurrection and the return of its King by growing little gardens of goodness.

Love and truth is what we hope for in this twenty-four hour journey, especially as expressed in the right kind of restraint, which really listens carefully to those around us, asks good questions and understands those we are attempting to love and serve. We want to not only hear their words but to ‘hear’ their feelings and their non-verbal language.

You know our back stories, so we don’t need to go into details, but there have been words used— often gold-plated and untouchable, and sometimes cruel—over the years and months. Or was it yesterday? We ask that if we have unfinished business here that you would bring it to our attention and give us the grace to at least begin a conversation with whoever may have been responsible, or if not that, to at least harness the hurt to serve us and you through the habit of thanksgiving or even to drop it entirely. As Joseph said to his brothers, ‘You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.’3

On the other hand, perhaps we are the ones giving the grief and they have been trying to tell us something for a long time but we would not be told: just didn’t get it. Take us to a place where we can listen well, ask good questions, see their point of view and ask for forgiveness.

We include those who manage us in this too: our partners, our friends and work colleagues, our bosses or maybe even one of our children. Communication is a problem for us. We ask for protection from the recklessness of second-guessing; from not even noticing when we are to blame and have caused grief and misunderstanding. We need faithfulness, creativity and honesty in our words and we need resources, people and skills to build helpful communication processes.

When we are communicating, help us to know and observe ourselves and at the same time to be genuinely interested in those we speak with and to immerse our thoughts in theirs so that we can ask relevant questions and can feel and know your love for them. Show us how to love others in a way that translates as love in their language. Yes! You heard us say it. We do want to be ‘quick to hear and slow to speak’.4 And yes … save us from the curse of an unbridled tongue disguised as transparency.

We ask for grace and patience to wait and to sense where you are in the situation and to cooperate with what you are doing. Be that a joke, a song, a hard scrabble fight or a sweet day of cafes and laughter. We also ask for awareness and understanding of the arts of ownership, participation and servanthood; the expectancy of faith; the focus of ambition and the joy of learning.

If we are to be managers and teachers today, we ask for skill to train and teach well so that we would develop a life-time habit of inviting participation rather than passive admiration, and that the ‘with-him’/’with-her’ principle would be a natural instinct, enabling deep ownership in those we lead and teach.

Transform us and fill us with your goodness, wisdom and grace in such a way that our demonstrating will be inspiring and arouse curiosity rather than yawns; that our supervising will be encouraging; and that the hearts of others will burn in that deep and strong way of those two friends on the Emmaus Road5 whose gloomy afternoon walk was catalysed by you: the surprising stranger. This will take much more than learning and training and systems, and this is where we confess we are lost, for it is an impossible mystery and requires that you make us into a sacrament. Amen.’

1 From ‘True to Real’, a poem by Peter Volkofsky

2 Revelation 13:8

3 Genesis 50:20

4 James 1:19

5Luke 24:13-33

6 Studdert Kennedy’s poem ‘Faith’
7CS Lewis’ poem, ‘Love’s as Warm as Tears’


Conversation-Stabbing Ghost Voices

 It’s a dark, dingy night in the city of western Sydney. Muscle cars cruise the street with drivers with haircuts looking like the rear end of a horse. Not where you would expect to find a poetry slam, actually, come to think of it, it’s got slam all over it: fast, furious and then it’s all over—too bad if someone’s sensitivities have just been trampled into the dirt.

So here we are, upstairs with standing room only, the hat being assed around if you want to put your name in and throw word-javelins into the sky or maybe a few word-flowers too. The smiles on faces having that One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest look about them, somehow excited, happy and a bit loopy. Loopy works well at slams, it’s one the reasons I’ve come.

While we wait for the show to get started I find myself in a conversation with a young guy who looks like he’s out for a bit of fun. The topic moves from this place, to some other place, to life in general. In the middle of the flow, what can only be described as a ‘conversation-stabbing-ghost voice’, makes an announcement through his lips.

‘If you haven’t got your health you’ve got nothing have you,’ he says.

‘I’m not sure I agree,’ I say.

‘What do you mean?’ he says.

‘My mum for example, she had Motor Neurone disease. “Nothing to live for” you might say, but she gave me so much. She still shines like a candle for me.’

There’s a long silence. In the darkened room around us, laughter and jokes fly thick and fast, like bats, and I stand there with my drink in the eye of the storm, wondering what’s going to happen.

‘You’re right,’ he says.

Something melts, even melts away and the two of us spend the rest of the night talking—so much so that he won’t stay away from me. He wants to talk about faith and hope and love, and confesses to me that this was the night he was going to throw it all away, to abandon faith and drink the cup of meaninglessness.

We talk and talk. I get my turn on the stage along with a dozen or so other poets, our voices ranging from hate, to heavy metal, to some more like country music, em n’ em, folk, and a few amazing voices that seem to come straight out of heaven. The audience gets a treat and we all laugh a lot. The night is over now and my friend tells me how grateful he is and wants me to pray a prayer for him. We go our separate ways.

From that day till now I’ve found myself in countless conversations where those conversation—stabbing ghost voices rise up out of the flow like nasty little eels, especially insinuating themselves when things are getting intimate and genuine. It makes you wonder if something deep in our broken-ness starts to panic when we get close to the real, and automatically releases one of these just to keep things familiar.

Even the shape of the ‘blurt’ is kind of weird: beginning by sounding like an announcement but ending as a question, as if you’re being invited to hear them out—but while you’re not looking the script changes. The other person plays on your sense of courtesy, using the polite, agreeable context to blackmail you into agreeing with their statement, even implicating you in their lie.

The examples are countless: ‘If you haven’t got your health you’ve got nothing have you.’ ‘After all you only get one life don’t you.’ ‘Shit happens eh!’ ‘If it’s meant to happen it will eh!’ ‘If God wants it to happen it will eh!’ ‘We’re all whores it’s just that we have different price tags eh.’

Don’t let them get away with it. The only proper response is an instantaneous ‘head-shot on the run’. Something like, ‘Can I ask you a question?’, ‘What do you mean by that?’, ‘Where did you get that idea?’, ‘I don’t know about that’, ‘So what are you trying to say?’, ‘I’m sorry but I can’t agree at all.’ ‘I beg to differ.’ My favourite is ‘Can I ask you a question?’ Once I had to repeat my question three time loudly before the other guy would stop and ask me what it was.

Bosses, wounded people looking for affirmation, and older people with younger people, do it all the time because they assume deference but assumed-deference is a cheap liberty being taken. You and I probably do it to people too by the way. As a man of faith I have had to apologise numerous times for jumping on my own personal conversation motor bike and just not listening.

You will already know at least someone in your world who does it all the time. But beware, we are all in trouble when we attempt to love others. George MacDonald said the first thing the ‘lover of others’ must try to do is to figure out how not to do them harm.