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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My swamp

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.

As I wrote on the original piece here, swamps are a powerful symbol or archetype for me, and a theme to which I continually return… as long-time readers and followers of my blogs and art sites will know.

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

Date of original post: 24 November 2010

Total views, at 2 May 2016: 277

My Swamp; Or, a moment of paranoia

It’s lonely here in the swamp.
Only frogs and waterbirds for company
and it’s not like they can talk with me.
What does a duck think about, anyway?
I could stand in the murky depths all day
until my skin is stained with dirt.
Still it seems to me that they’re better company than humans.
People are hurtful, painful, messy.
Full of horrors.
They plot the many ways they will hurt me.
Here among the snakes and fish and mosquitoes,
the creatures, they do not plot and plan and invent ways of evil.
They exist, they act, they behave according to their ways,
but they are not man that they should seek to harm or destroy.
And so I cloister myself in nature’s monastery,
in the solemn solitude and darkness of the waters and the trees
and meditate on that which drove me here.

 

Prove me wrong

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: 21 July 2011

Total views, at 2 May 2016: 402

prove me wrong

when the dull twilight cast its pallid glow on these wastelands
I tried to hide the tears – don’t ever reveal them.
Remembered too, my daily mantra:
I am dirt and dust
a fragile, broken thing
worthless and numb
it hollows the bones
and years of sorrow’s shed tears fill the dry streambeds
silvery sparkling salt water flow
clay and dried husks of dead plants
the debris lifted by the breeze and tossed in the water.

Prove me wrong when I look ahead and see only emptiness,
a lifetime void of promise or hope.
And love: made available only to the select few,
but not to me
… in my imperfections
… the surface marred with scars
… beauty never given, and never received.

Please, prove me wrong when I stand before you
reciting my reasons,
my endless self-hating epithets,
my declarations of love’s absence.
Because if you don’t,
All hope is lost,
and I will never know what it is to be
… loved
… embraced
… desired
… beautiful.
Surely, if I thought it my calling I would cast it all aside
these whims and desires
Become a martyr and saint –
but martyrs and saints freely lay down their lives
through the endless love of Spirit and joyful union with their Creator
and I..? I struggle with the
torment borne of the deepest sense
that something is terribly wrong
within me
with me
Here on the insipid plains of a sun-bleached desert
alone again
lifeless
loveless
I need you to prove me wrong
about everything
that I believe about myself.

 

Easter Sketching

It’s Easter Monday here in Australia, and after a lovely day yesterday driving along Victoria’s beautiful Great Ocean Road, we’re having a quiet day at home. I spent some time this morning enjoying a coffee (long black, made in a plunger – whenever my friends visit and try my coffee they politely refuse any refills and never manage to finish a whole cup, which suggests to me that my preference for dark and slightly bitter drinks isn’t universal – but it but it works for me!), and reading more of Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation (1961). I’m reading a 2007 edition by New Directions Books, New York, with an introduction by Sue Monk Kidd.

IMG_8337

27 March 2016. iPhone 5C snapshot taken out of the car window (from the passenger side, of course!) on the Great Ocean Road near Separation Creek and Wye River. The trees bear the marks of a bushfire that tore through the Otway Ranges in late December 2015 and early January 2016. The eucalyptus trees are terribly burnt and yet sprouting green leaves on their trunks (a survival mechanism they have in response to the fact they do tend to catch on fire). Behind the twisted and tortured looking trees here is the vast greenish-blue expanse of Bass Strait, and if you drew a line directly southwards from here you’d cross one island then end up in Antarctica.

Merton is one of those writers I simply cannot read in one sitting. A single paragraph from him can be so laden with rich meaning and depth that more often than not, I might make it through about three pages before I have to set it down and journal my thoughts as I read. I have a notebook set aside for taking notes and quotes from books – that’s a useful habit that I picked up in my university days. I know everyone learns differently, but for me I find that handwriting quotes and my own personal responses to a text enables me to delve more deeply and memorise pithy sayings. By writing it down I tend to remember it and be able to plug it into the neural networking system… I vaguely expect that at some point in my life I will have amassed enough information to categorise everything, ever. I can’t even talk to people these days without running a mental sub-routine that is trying to analyse the content of their speech and apply to them an ontological category: “Hmmm, this person is talking about coffee, but I suspect that they are a member of the … subculture, their religious self-label is … but I think they’re also heavily influenced by … philosophy…” Yeah, I don’t know. The things that amuse different people, I guess. (more…)

Video: Who Cares About the Saints? Series – 1

I have really enjoyed watching this series about the lives of some of the saints. I watched several episodes with my children as a way of introducing them to the notion of saints. Where I was raised a Catholic, my children have been raised Pentecostal and in the last year or so I’ve tried to introduce them to a few Catholic concepts to expand their understanding of what it means to be Christian, in its incredible denominational variety.

https://youtu.be/O650TPCIXrI