NaNoWriMo Journal 2015: 9

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Not a lot to say, really. It’s been a fairly typical Saturday. I’m way behind my word count goals – by the end of today I need to be on 23,333 words to be up-to-date. But I won’t panic because this has happened in my previous Nanowrimos, and third time around I’ve accepted that having bad days is part of the routine. In an ideal world I’d have a few days a week, all year round, of solid writing. But that’s not always possible. So here I am. Trying to write while ignoring the desire to procrastinate on DuoLingo (I’ve added Norwegian, Ukrainian and Irish Gaelic to my languages… I’ll probably try Swedish next. Funnily enough it turns out I still remember a lot of Ukrainian and a tiny bit of Gaelic from back when I first tried to learn them years ago).

I’m also at that stage in the Nano process where I suddenly remember how much I love drawing and I start finding it hard to write because I keep imagining all the paintings I should be doing right now. Sorry, art, but you have to wait!

Current word count: 18,912 / 50,000 words

Today’s writing soundtrack: The Magic of Nature by Elderwind; Griseus by Aquilus… yet again. Beautiful stuff, if you ask me. Dark, brooding, atmospheric metal written by an Aussie. To me it’s the soundtrack of being in a haunted forest. 

Monday, 16 November 2015

Today’s proven to be one of those unusually productive days. Somehow I managed to get the kids out of bed, get myself to an appointment, go out for coffee, pick up some flea and worming treatment I’d ordered in at the animal hospital, give the cats their flea treatment, listen to a Richard Rohr lecture while cleaning, get in some mindfulness and prayer time, and I have roughly an hour to write before rushing off to get the kids from school and spend the evening no doubt following the routine of harassing them to do homework and find their sports uniforms.

My story is going well. I’ve finally made it to a significant plot point that will enable my character Zaira to confront the question of her own humanness or otherwise when she becomes lost and is rescued by a community of humanoid beings that welcome her into their midst. I said I wasn’t going to write my trademark “woman meets hot extra-terrestrial” story but it looks like that’s where the story wants to go. I think it is similar in many ways to my 2013 NaNoWriMo entry, and I think that if I work on it, I could potentially link them and create a duology of stories about the overarching and interlinked histories between a group of different worlds. As I say that I immediately think of the first two books in CS Lewis’s Space Trilogy, and find myself wondering how much those novels (Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra) influenced my story. Not to mention the great 19th Century writer George Macdonald’s Phantastes and Lilith).

Current word count: 25,363 / 50,000 words

Today’s writing soundtrack: Music of Unity and Peace by the Taizé Community. The music and teachings of Taizé have greatly impacted my life and enriched my spirituality. While I have never been to Taizé, I was able to spend a day with some of the French monks and a multicultural and inter-denominational group of young adults when Brother Alois visited Australia in early 2015.


Mid-winter Taizé, July 2015

Earlier this week I attended the mid-winter Taizé Melbourne retreat at the Carmelite Centre in Middle Park. I don’t think I’ve been to Middle Park before. It’s right on the beach and when we were there it was very quiet, nice coffee – and a quick glance at the average price of the lovely late 1800s terrace houses in the area confirms the reality that I could never afford to live somewhere like that!

Here are a few snap shots from the day. We had vegetarian soups for lunch, singing, and lots of interesting conversations – because Taizé is very deliberately ecumenical, or inter-denominational, everyone comes with varied beliefs and ideas about God, prayer, church community and the Bible. I find it really valuable actively surrounding myself with people whose outlook is different – it challenges and stretches my own faith. As a very introverted person, married to an introvert too (in that light it’s amazing we ever actually met each other, really, considering we could both happily be hermits), I also find events like this a genuine help in meeting people on a similar wavelength. The way the small group studies were organised meant that my husband and I had to go with separate groups and sit with complete strangers to discuss the Scripture in question.

When I got home I was browsing through the materials and brochures they gave us and, to my surprise, I found that one of my older relatives (my father’s uncle) is listed as one of the spiritual directors at the Centre – I had no idea. I haven’t seen him much since I moved away from my hometown, so I guess I hadn’t realised that we move in similar circles. That really got me thinking – I’m not so unique, in a sense, because there are other people in my extended family who are also interested in Catholic mysticism, contemplative practices, theology and prayer. Of course there are. Some of them are nuns and priests, too. And I’ve been thinking about heritage a lot, lately. There’s a heritage of Catholicism and Methodism in my ancestry, and though my parents’ generation mostly haven’t adopted the Christ-centric spiritual worldview, it gives me a sense of connectedness to those who’ve come before me in the way I’ve kind of absorbed and taken on Christianity, as far as I can understand it, as my worldview. But that’s a whole other story and I could write a blog series on that idea alone. Maybe I will, one day – I’m still journalling through my thoughts on that and it is nowhere near the stage of being workable into any kind of writing.

Anyway, I’ve mentioned Taizé a couple of times on this blog. It’s something I had never even heard of before last year – though I had learned a few Taizé songs as a teenager playing flute for services in the Catholic church, without knowing they were from this French monastic community devoted to prayer, reconciliation, trust and peace. After the mid-winter retreat I found myself reflecting on the fact that I am so grateful my husband and I discovered Taizé when we did. In a time when I’ve experienced some significant life challenges and an attendant but, I think, necessary crisis of faith, Taizé-style prayer and music has become for me a calm oasis.


25 July 2015 - Photos from the Melbourne Taizé winter retreat, Carmelite Centre, Middle Park.

25 July 2015 – Photos from the Melbourne Taizé winter retreat, Carmelite Centre, Middle Park.

25 July 2015 - Photos from the Melbourne Taizé winter retreat, Carmelite Centre, Middle Park.

25 July 2015 – Photos from the Melbourne Taizé winter retreat, Carmelite Centre, Middle Park.

25 July 2015 - Photos from the Melbourne Taizé winter retreat, Carmelite Centre, Middle Park.

25 July 2015 – Photos from the Melbourne Taizé winter retreat, Carmelite Centre, Middle Park.

25 July 2015 - Photos from the Melbourne Taizé winter retreat, Carmelite Centre, Middle Park.

25 July 2015 – Photos from the Melbourne Taizé winter retreat, Carmelite Centre, Middle Park.

Melbourne Taizé Pilgrimage Day – February 2015

In February 2015 I was very privileged to participate in the Melbourne Taizé Pilgrimage Day. Three of the monks from the Taizé community in France spent the whole day with a group of about 100-150 young adults. Taizé is an incredible ecumenical form of Christian prayer and worship, incorporating elements from a number of different liturgical traditions. We travelled to three churches – Uniting, Catholic and Anglican – as well as spending part of the day at a series of workshops at Melbourne University (I think it was Melbourne Uni, it was all a blur and I don’t quite recall!). My husband and I were probably the only representatives from a Pentecostal church – probably because Pentecostalism is a very far cry from the contemplative and meditative styles of Christianity that incorporate iconography and lectio divina. However for me, a Catholic for most of my life, it was a fantastic time of reconnecting with the faith tradition I was raised in.

There was a beautiful and strong emphasis on diversity of Christian tradition and ethnicity and culture. It was a very multicultural crowd. We were Welcomed to Country by an Australian Indigenous elder at the first service. The deliberate efforts towards peace and reconciliation between different people groups is so inspiring. In the morning Bible study session I found it fascinating that even though our group was so diverse in tradition and ethnic background, we were able to share freely from the common ground of our faith in Christ. When you spend such an intensive day with believers from very diverse traditions and language groups and eat together and read the Bible together, it’s a profound experience of realising that “Others” are really fellow pilgrims and travellers in this journey of life.

I attended a poetry reading and writing workshop, and a discerning God’s will through Bible study and prayer workshop, both run by the Taizé monks. What I learned there could last me a lifetime.

At times the day felt like being part of a Christian flashmob. We turned up at the Catholic Church, St Francis’s – the oldest Catholic Church in the state of Victoria – around the time of day that worshippers were spending time in quiet reflection before the Sacrament. I wish I knew what it must’ve looked like to the unsuspecting congregants when a large group of young adults swarmed in, seated ourselves at the front pews, and burst into song, singing the beautiful Taizé hymn “Bless the Lord.” Of course, it took us a while to get to our venue because in a group of Christians walking around the city together, where a number of the group members were monks, priests and nuns, the religious kept kneeling down to say hello to the homeless people we met along the way. It was a learning experience for me, to realise that I might have not noticed the homeless on the street in my rush to get to the next destination, but for the monks and nuns no schedule was more important than stopping to recognise the humanity of these men on the roadside.

This video shows some highlights from the component of the day spent at St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral in Melbourne, a wonderful iconic building across the road from the famous Flinders Street Station clocks and Federation Square, in the heart of our beautiful city. I appear briefly in the blurry background of the video – I was sitting on the floor near the altar. I remember that my voice was tired from a lot of hymn singing, I had a throbbing headache and my legs were sore from all the walking and kneeling. But when it was my turn to walk across to the icon of the Crucifixion and pray, using the art and symbolism to remind me of Jesus Himself, it was just an incredibly powerful spiritual moment, like water welling up from a deep spring – it’s something I will probably never be able to explain in a way that does it justice. As I walked out of the Cathedral that night, farewelling newly-made friends and watching the skies darken over the city, I was reminded of the beauty of the mystery of our faith. When I rediscover the sense of awe and mystery it’s no longer a faith to be deconstructed and proven in a catechismal apologetic; instead there’s a peace and joy from the sharing of faith community, as well as a strengthening of the inward self that has learned to be comfortable with the unexplainable beauty of silence and contemplation.

We have also attended a couple of the local Taizé-style worship services in the last year – one at a Lutheran Church and one at a Uniting Church – and we look forward to attending as many as we can before we reach the 35-year-old cut-off age (noooooo! Maybe I’ll just pretend I’m perpetually early-30s). For my lifelong Pentecostal husband it seems to have revealed to him new ways of praying and understanding the Bible. He was raised in a context where he was taught that liturgical Christians are not really Christian, and so it’s been helpful for him to break down some of those deeply ingrained prejudices and discover the faith he shares in common with different styles of Jesus following.

One of the many things I love about Taizé is that they practice times of silence during prayer meetings – actual silence that can last for 10 minutes. On the Pilgrimage day some sparrows flew into the sanctuary in the Uniting Church, and so the silence was filled with birdsong. There was something poetically beautiful about the sparrows flying and singing about our heads while in silent prayer. (It was a Matthew 10:29 kind of moment!)

In the silence I love watching the flickering flames, meditating on the iconography, contemplating the beauty of the different churches we sat in. I also love the way it provides a safe space for Christians from different traditions to acknowledge our shared faith as well as our differences. Possibly the most famous aspect of Taizé is their music, beautiful choral hymns reciting scripture passages. Often these are sung in Latin, or other languages. The group I have attended will find out in advance which language groups are represented so that they can incorporate scripture readings and songs for a diverse group. In Taizé I’ve heard the Bible read and sung in Latin, English, German, Chinese and numerous other languages as befitting our very multicultural city. Over the coming weeks I will try to share a few videos of Taizé music. I’ve heard there is also a Taizé podcast though I haven’t tracked that down yet.

If you haven’t heard of Taizé before but are curious to know more, you can visit their multilingual website taize.fr.

“If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples.” – John 13:35 GNT

Here are some of the snap shots I took of the Pilgrimage Day on my mobile phone camera.

Taizé Pilgrimage Day, Melbourne - 7 February 2015

Taizé Pilgrimage Day, Melbourne – 7 February 2015


Taizé Pilgrimage Day, Melbourne – 7 February 2015


Taizé Pilgrimage Day, Melbourne – 7 February 2015 – Poetry Workshop


Taizé Pilgrimage Day, Melbourne – 7 February 2015 – My view from the front on the floor at St Paul’s Cathedral


Taizé Pilgrimage Day, Melbourne – 7 February 2015 – My view from the front on the floor at St Paul’s Cathedral

Laudate Dominum (1998)

My first encounter with this song was as a teenager in the late 1990s, learning it on flute for a Catholic mass. For many years I didn’t hear it again, but occasionally it would get stuck on repeat in my mind. Then when we moved house earlier this year I discovered my old flute sheet music folder – with this song in it, a photocopy of the handwritten flute part. Iplayed it on the piano for the kids, telling them how much I missed the old style hymns.

Then, in the last year or two as we’ve gone on a bit of a discovery journey learning about contemplative Christianity, Taizé-style worship came up as an option for young adults interested in exploring their spirituality. One night my husband was listening to Taizé music when I suddenly realised I was hearing this song – ‘Laudate Dominum,’ sung by the Taizé musicians. We have since attended a local Taizé-style prayer meeting and I hope to go again. It’s not for everyone, and it is probably the direct antithesis of the Pentecostal-style church I’ve attended for the last decade, but I loved the simplicity of it, the depth of the lyrics and the way it was all centred on Christ through icons and symbols – not on the performance of the musicians, who were seated to the side so that they wouldn’t steal the show.