christian mysticism

Memories: Thin Places

Memories. Circa 1989. Aged somewhere between 8 and 10. South-east Victoria, Australia.

 

It was December. Warm summer afternoon sunlight shone down on the backyard. When I was a child, that yard seemed so large and so magical. The hydrangea by the verandah shaded a soft living carpet of baby’s tears plants and moss. There were trees: frangipani, with its bursts of flowers and wattle birds hopping between its branches; a young silver birch with long draping branches; and the apple tree. A winding path led from the verandah steps to the back gate that opened out onto a gravel laneway. Other children lived on the laneway, and we built a cubby house from branches and bark under the tall old eucalypts behind the back fence. Magpies sang among the gum branches, and blackbirds sang from the top of the fence. From a particular vantage point on the verandah I could see my grandparents’ house, a few streets away. It seemed like such an enormous distance and a vast view. Between their house and mine was a large playground, swampy paddocks with herds of beef cattle, and houses. Funny how in a small town it’s still possible to not know everyone.

I lay on the trampoline. One of those big rectangular ones with exposed springs and none of the safety nets that my own children now take for granted. I could hear the neighbours’ family playing cricket. They must have been visiting for Christmas. Every so often a tennis ball would ricochet off the rubbish bin stumps and come sailing over the fence. At least it was tennis balls and not lemons, I guess. I begrudgingly threw it back, becoming increasingly infuriated by the interruption to my meditations. I was trying to recapture a moment. An earlier memory from when I was maybe six or seven. That had happened while lying in the same spot – though perhaps on the grass. It was probably in the days pre-trampoline. There was a small swing set there, too.

I had this overwhelming sense that in this spot I had once connected with God. It is the earliest spiritual memory I still have. There are glimpses, going a long way back, of church and religious school, but this one stands as a very sharp, defined moment in my earliest recollections. And so  I sensed Him – It, Her, They, I didn’t presume to know – in the vast masses of cumulus solemnly sailing through the shockingly blue sky. It was my own personal Jacob’s ladder. A mystical sense that there was, almost certainly, a link between my small mortal frame and the vastness of this life force or spirit that I personified as the God I had learned about in Mass. Nowadays I would describe it as a Thin Place, where the veil between the worlds was permeable. I could peer into a realm where Time itself had no meaning. There were angels there, too, classical, beautiful and masculine beings like those in the old Catholic artworks.

When I was ten we moved out of that house. We were still in the same town – I even took the same school bus, just took it from a different stop, and for years thereafter the driver waved hello whenever he saw me – but moving to the other edge of the town felt like half a world away. My cats were buried there. The trees full of song birds were there. The kids I knew were just a back gate and stroll down the lane away. My first Thin Place was there. It had been my great-grandparents’ house and while I never knew them, traces of their lives and legacy were strewn throughout that home. Gone was the pastel pink wallpaper I’d excitedly helped choose when my parents renovated the house. The plants we grew: poppies along the northern wall of the house, veggies right down the back, the nasturtiums with their population of cabbage moth caterpillars, the sprawling passionfruit vine, and the gums along the lane framing the view to the swampy farmland in the valley. I couldn’t look out of the front window anymore to see the horses lined up at the recreation reserve before the annual agricultural show’s equestrian competitions, nor hear the masked lapwings circling angrily when the weekly tennis club disturbed their nests.  I couldn’t see my grandparents’ house from the verandah anymore, and in the new house the view between us was obscured by the hills. (I was later surprised to discover that I could see our new house peering through the chicken wire fence at the edge of my primary school oval.) I was devastated in ways my limited language was unable to express. I came down with a nasty flu shortly thereafter, and I do think that time marked the beginning of my depression. But no ten year old can likely say, in a coherent and self-reflective fashion, “I’m really struggling with the grief of this major transition in my life, to the extent it’s clouding my ability to manage my internal thought world.” It would be twenty years before I finally got help.

And I did eventually find other Thin Places. Looking out over my other grandparents’ farm, alone, rain beating my face and wind soughing through the tops of the cypresses. The beach. The bush. Anywhere with flowing water. Silent moments in church, and sometimes, moments when the flickering candle light reflecting off the stained glass windows and the voices of the faithful singing soared and though they were raw and imperfect and sometimes seemed lost in the hugeness of the sanctuary, it was as though they rose to heaven like incense. But nothing ever again quite broke through the veils between the worlds the way that had happened lying there under the vast expanse of clouds in the yard that then seemed like a world unto itself.

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He left me to die here

I am currently decluttering my RedBubble Portfolio, to make way for more recent art that best represents who I am now, as well as to make it easier for customers to navigate the available products for sale. As a result I will be sharing some of my old creative writings here on WordPress, as a way of preserving them. In several cases my mind, opinions, beliefs, values and overall understanding of life have changed since the time I wrote these pieces, but I still feel that they are personally valuable reminders of the various stages of my life journey thus far.

This piece of writing was first posted at my RedBubble Creative Writing Portfolio.

Date of original post:

Part 1 – 26 December 2010

Part 2 – December 2010

Part 3 – December 2010

Total views, at 2 May 2016:

Part 1 – 570

Part 2 – 486

Part 3 – 413

I. He Left Me To Die Here – 1 of 3

When I finally opened my eyes, it was into the searing white heat of a desert landscape. Sun-bleached stones and striated mesas came into focus. My limbs ached and the thirst was unbearable. Spiky tussocks of grass poked my bare, burnt skin. I became aware of my prone position, face down, skin scraping on harsh, rocky soil. I was cut in places, with dried blood caked to my arms.

He had brought me here. I was sure of it.

He left me cut and bleeding, and in a ditch?

I thought he was loving. I thought he cared about me. It was a strange kind of love that did this to a girl.

Did he not know that I was already mired in self pity, in old hurts, in a wounded spirit? Was that not enough for him?

To call me into this wild place, fraught with danger, injured and left to die; how could he do that to me?

The ghostly howl of the wind as it rushed between rocky passes and through the sharp-bladed grass was broken by a soft voice. “Here, drink this,” he said, holding a flask to my mouth.

It was him. Wrapped in coarse robes. Despite the dry heat, he wore heavy, dark clothing. His feet were bare, and he must have been tough skinned to walk on the rubble and thorns.

I drank, and drank, feeling the life slowly coursing back into my broken body.

He squatted next to me in the dust and dirt, and held out his hand. I glared at him, knowing that my naked, bruised, and wounded state would steal any authority or strength from my countenance. He waited. I refused to stir. An age seemed to pass as I tried to stare him into submission, knowing it was a fruitless task, knowing he could wait forever.

“I didn’t try to kill you,” he whispered, “but I brought you here so you could stay with me and heal.”

Lies. It had to be lies. He had told me he would protect me, stay by me, always love me. Then he had disappeared and left me to die here.

“I am here now,” he said. “And I was never far from you.”

A sharp jolt of pain ran through my body. I groaned and clasped his hand. His skin was cool, his touch kind. He lifted me to my feet and wrapped me in rough robes like his own. I hurt, but I could stand, still holding his hand.

He almost smiled, and his eyes were gentle. I wanted to hate him. What was this lonely desert? The heat, the pain, the blood. The scent of unseen flowers caught in the wind’s howling rush across the land.

“Come with me,” he said. He walked ahead of me, releasing my hand. Tears began to fall. I did not want him to let go, not again. I hated him and I loved him.

He walked onwards, and I struggled to catch up. I saw his feet dig into the rocky soil as he climbed over a rise. I followed in his footprints, dented in the white earth.

“Where are you going?” I cried. My voice was weak and lost in the natural noises of the wasteland. He glanced back toward me and smiled. I struggled after him.

II. He Let Me Hold His Hand – 2 of 3

It was hard travelling with him. He moved so quickly and easily in the soft, shifting sands and over rough, sharp grass and rocks. Sometimes he looked back and caught my eye. Something in his glance gave me courage.

He never answered my questions, merely walked ahead. Shimmering waves of heat distorted the horizon, which became flatter as we headed into the white desert.

I had so much to ask him. Why had he brought me here, to this desolate waste? Why had he let me nearly die before restoring me? How did he move so lightly, so swiftly? How could I ever trust him to lead me when he left me for so long? How I hated him, hated with a passion. I had loved him, that was the only reason I could despise him now.

Yet, he had come for me. Late, but not too late. I saw him now, climbing a small rise. He stopped and waited for me to catch up. I reached out to touch his hand. He stood still and let me entwine our fingers together. He smiled now, as he looked across a green plateau. The silvery thread of a river wound its course through the grassy expanse. The sky here was less harsh, a pale blue, rather than glaring white.

To touch him was like touching the source of life and light. It was overwhelming, and I wanted to let go, but wanted to hold on. I was entirely torn. Who was he? Why did he bring me here? Why not someone else? Though, it seemed, there was not another soul in this strange place.

He led me down the hillside toward the river, feeling the cool grass beneath my aching feet. The wounds on my arms had healed now, leaving fine traces of scars. Still, he let me hold his hand.

I did not know if he would answer me, but he was here. For now. I would have to rest in the closeness of his presence and hope that he would remain close.

III. He Said I Could Never Be Happy In This Place – 3 of 3

We sat by the silver stream, watching the clouds drift across the caerulean expanse of a kind sky. It was quiet, more peaceful here.

He lay down on the ground and motioned for me to do the same. Lying on the soft grass next to each other, I listened to him breathing. Wondered what he was thinking behind his thoughtful eyes. Wondered if I should ask him what was going through his mind. I did not though, for fear of being ignored. For fear that if he did finally answer me, I would not be able to bear the truth.

For now it was enough to be here, with him. To lie side by side and take in the sky, the distant speck of a hunting raptor high on the air currents, the sound of the gentle rushing river, the sound of his breathing.

“I did not leave you to die,” he whispered. “You ran from me. So I brought you out here. Only here would you see that you could trust me.”

His tone was serious. I struggled to understand. He had never made much sense to me.

He placed his hands on my face and looked in my eyes. It was confronting to face him at such close range. He was overwhelming. Terrifying. He certainly had my attention now, alone together, lost in some wilderness.

“I can’t force you to trust me,” he said gently, “but know this: you will never be truly happy in this place.”

He let me go, then, and I repositioned myself on the riverbank. I could not ignore the fact that, for now, I was happier than I could recall in any of my memories.

 

 

untitled

I am currently decluttering my RedBubble Portfolio, to make way for more recent art that best represents who I am now, as well as to make it easier for customers to navigate the available products for sale. As a result I will be sharing some of my old creative writings here on WordPress, as a way of preserving them. In several cases my mind, opinions, beliefs, values and overall understanding of life have changed since the time I wrote these pieces, but I still feel that they are personally valuable reminders of the various stages of my life journey thus far.

This piece of writing was first posted at my RedBubble Creative Writing Portfolio.

Date of original post: 27 June 2011

Total views, at 2 May 2016: 286

 

untitled (lifted from my journal)

Be merciful, I beg you
You know that I am dust
and broken soul fragments
bound together by a fragile spirit
floundering my way through a finite world
scarred and damaged beyond reason

And I know that you’re out there, too
and that you hear me
Though I wonder whether you care,
if I mean anything to you at all

So I borrow the words and platitudes
the songs composed by others
hoping their charitable act of forming and sharing their cliched words and setting them to tired chords
could somehow convey to you what’s happening in my heart

And those little moments in the music
those emotive notes and timed pauses
are somehow meant to suffice
as a way for me to tell you how I feel
to let my spirit speak

It’s not enough anymore
they aren’t my words.
Sure, they bridge the gap between us for a moment
but then what?
The moment passes
it was all just borrowed praise
but it disintegrates into meaningless noise and clamour

The pretty faced girls are meant to sing these things to you
I’m not that
not enough
never enough
never good enough

I want to be good enough
I want the words to be my own
but I don’t know where to begin

Path of Life

I am currently decluttering my RedBubble Portfolio, to make way for more recent art that best represents who I am now, as well as to make it easier for customers to navigate the available products for sale. As a result I will be sharing some of my old creative writings here on WordPress, as a way of preserving them. In several cases my mind, opinions, beliefs, values and overall understanding of life have changed since the time I wrote these pieces, but I still feel that they are personally valuable reminders of the various stages of my life journey thus far.

This piece of writing was first posted at my RedBubble Creative Writing Portfolio.

Date of original post: Circa 2012

Total views, at 2 May 2016: 408

path of life

You set me on a path of life –
though much of it winds through parched wastelands.
Yet even here are streams to water the way:
Sparkling, clear creeks clatter over smooth stones.
….. And in the solitude of mystic wanderings
Your voice whispers to me,
soft, faint and gentle.
You speak of comings storms and raging fires,
but in all this flows peace.
Peace: irrational, unfathomable, and
unmistakeable.

 

NaPo struggles

A short update – I haven’t forgotten NaPoWriMo but I sure dropped out of the race way too quickly this year. I did write a lengthy explanation post that topped out at 7,000 words (good heavens, if only the poetry came that easily for me). Upon reflection, though, I felt that the post was best left as a private journal entry rather than a public post. The thing is that, despite all my good intentions for creativity and productivity and churning out some sort of art that will make my mortal existence feel worthwhile – I am battling some big (metaphorical) demons in my life. Processing some deep trauma, transitioning to a new phase of life and leaving behind my comfort zone to find a new space, along with all the underlying challenges of being a mental illness sufferer – which is hard enough without it being overlaid by unnecessary interpersonal dramas.These things take up a remarkable amount of my energy to the extent that some days all I can manage is to make sure the kids and the cats are fed and safe. Anything more, like writing or art, is a bonus, but definitely not my first priority.

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