Tag Archive: questions


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Rubem Alves tells a story of a spider, safe and happy over empty space – building her house – no hesitation and with precision. Fragile yet perfect, symmetrical, beautiful, fit to its purpose.     “…I did not see her first move, the move which was the beginning of the web, the leap into the void…” (p.3)

What the spider needs to fulfil her intention is within her body. “Her body knows, her body remembers. But we have forgotten it.” (p.4)

Rubem Alves tells a story of a boy who found the body of a dead man
washed up on the edge of a seaside village.

There is only one thing to do with the dead: they must be buried.

In that village it was the custom for the women to prepare the dead for burial,
so the women began to clean the body in preparation for the funeral.
As they did, the women began to talk and
ponder about the dead stranger.

He was tall… and would have had to duck his head to enter their houses.
His voice… was it like a whisper or like thunder.
His hands… they were big. Did they play with children
or sail the seas or know how to caress and embrace a woman’s body.

The women laughed
“and were surprised as they realised that the funeral had become resurrection:
a moment in their flesh, dreams, long believed to be dead,
returning… their bodies alive again”. (p.24)

The husbands, waiting outside, and watching what was happening,
became jealous of the drowned man
as they realised he had power which they did not have.

And they thought about the dreams they had never had…

Alves ends this part of the story by telling that they finally buried the dead man.
But the village was never the same again.

“The dead man did not say one single word.
He was full of silence.
And his silence was the space of remembrance.
His dead body was full of their lost memories…” (p.31)

“Hoc est corpus meum. This is the bit of my flesh which became alive again by the power of the silence of this dead man…

What are we without the help of that which does not exist? – Valerie”  (p.35)

Acts 17:22-31

Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’

Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

(NRSV)

Reading 1: (Read through twice) What word or passage touches/speaks to you?

Reading 2: How does this word/passage touch your life/experience?

Reading 3: How are we called into being/doing by this word/passage?

 

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To explain: from the Latin ‘ex-planare’, to flatten, spread out, make level. A great bulldozer will push the mountains inside the abysses and everything will be become a luminous plain under midday sun.

To explicate: from the Latin ‘explicarte’, a verb derived from ‘plicare’ which means ‘to fold’. To explicate: To eliminate all folds where darkness abides; to spread the text out, so that light will illuminate the whole surface.

A good teacher is a luminous creature.  Whenever he gets darkness disappears.  He even carries candles in his pockets, which he lights whenever he finds a dark corner on his text: footnotes…

I became sure that I was no longer a good teacher when, instead of turning the lights on, I preferred to turn them off… and I feel sorry when the sun dispels it because my imagination together with elves and leprechauns, is deprived of the mist-eerie atmosphere without which it cannot breathe.

And I also love the darkness which abides inside the deep and lovely woods of Frost’s poetry, and the light which fractures through unquiet waters in Eliot’s poems, and the eerie atmosphere of the gothic cathedral, which reminds me of the entrails of the great fish inside the sea: a sunken cathedral… my whole Being reverberates, and I know that it belongs to the darkness of the woods, to the depth of the sea, to the mystery of the cathedral… If lights are turned on I am homeless…

I keep asking myself as to the reasons which led me astray and which force me to march in the opposite directions. But reasons I find none. Only suspicions…

I suspect that I do not want to decipher the mystery.  I want questions and not answers.  I want the sea and not the harbour.

p.8-9, The Poet, The Warrior, The Prophet

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[p.9-10]

Why is the measure of love loss?

…You said, ‘I love you’.  Why is it that the most unoriginal thing we can say to one another is still the thing we long to hear? ‘I love you’ is always a quotation.  You did not say it first and neither did I, yet when you say it and when I say it we speak like savages who have found three words and worship them.  I did worship them but now I am alone on a rack hewn out of my own body.

…love demands expression. It will not stay still, stay silent, be good, be modest, be seen and not heard, no.  It will break out in tongues of praise, the high note that smashes the glass and spills the liquid.  It is no conservationist love. It is a big game hunter and you are the game.  A curse on this game.  How can you stick at a game when the rules keep changing? I shall call myself Alice and play croquet with the flamingos. In Wonderland everyone cheats and love is Wonderland isn’t it? Love makes the world go round. Love is blind. All you need is love. Nobody ever died of a broken heart. You’ll get over it… It’s the clichés that cause the trouble. A precise emotion seeks a precise expression. If what I feel is not precise then should I call it love? It is so terrifying, love, that all I can do is shove it under a dump bin of pink cuddly toys and send myself a greetings card saying ‘Congratulations on your Engagement’. But I am not engaged I am deeply distracted.  I am desperately looking the other way so love won’t see me.

Faysal Ishak Ahmed

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We gathered today to acknowledge and show respect to Faysal Ishak Ahmed.

We gather knowing we will do this again. We will do this again because there will be more deaths. They are preventable. This is unacceptable.  We know this will happen again because it has happened and is still happening with 23 deaths in the last two years (Australian Border Deaths Database).  Perhaps it’s feeling like there’s too many vigils, we had one just last month… to this we say “Yes. There are too many vigils.”

The origin of the word “vigil” is to do with being awake and keeping watch. We want to acknowledge the sorrow, grief and anger of Faysal’s friends and family. The other survivors of Dafur who know how few survivors there were wondering whether they might ever feel at home here. Those yet in camps on Nauru or Manus who wonder what help, what hope, might yet come for them.

Faysal, refugee – yes, and also a son, a husband, a father, a human died at 27 years of age. Today we say his name, hold his picture up – we say not only that your death meant something, but your life meant something even though we did not know you.

I imagine Jesus on his knees praying in the garden of Gethsemane wondering what help, what hope, might yet come but having some sense of inevitability about his situation asking of his companions: “Can you not stay awake and watch with me for even an hour?”.   To those waiting in the camps it must seem as though we are asleep for surely if we knew they were sick, surely if we knew they were being hurt, surely if we knew they were hungry this would not be a situation we would let continue… I hold my goddaughter in my lap, she is just starting out at school – learning to read – I imagine her asking me in years to come when this is a social studies project at school “Where were you while this was happening? Why didn’t you do something? Why did it take so long to change?” and trying to explain how it could be that some of us, so many of us, should be “asleep”. Yes he had refugee status – that didn’t seem to make a difference. The PNG government declared the camps illegal – that didn’t seem to make a difference.   The UN said aspects of Australia’s asylum seeker policies violate the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment – that didn’t seem to make a difference… What will make a difference?  I overhear one woman say to another: “What people don’t understand is that to do nothing is to do something.”

 

We have met today on the Princes Bridge, I don’t know why. I look around while I wait for the formalities to begin and notice that all along the bridge is the Latin motto Vires Acquirit Eundo (the coat of arms of Melbourne) meaning ‘she gathers strength as she goes’ referring to the Roman goddess Fama or rumour personified. Following the speakers and a moment of silence, those holding flowers are invited to throw them from the bridge into the Yarra river and I realise my hope is that these vigils might gather strength as they go.

Those who are on their knees praying are asking us if we can be awake.
Those crying alone in the darkness are asking if we can stay awake with them.

Unbidden some of those at the vigil move out onto the road and block traffic on the bridge. They are asking us: “Are you awake?”

The next action calling for the camps to be closed, for the refugees seeking our protection to be given their mandated human rights, will be held on Sunday 9 April (Palm Sunday) – this is a question for people of all faiths and none: “Are you awake?”

 

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Consider looking into the Love Makes A Way movement or Refugee Action Collective for other ways to be involved and further details for the Palm Sunday event as it draws closer. I’ve drawn on inspiration from many of tonight’s vigil speakers above, thanks for your voice and advocacy.

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We can sometimes find ourselves at a crossroads in our life – this job or that, this community or that, this city/country or that… these times can be terribly isolating as we wear well-worn tracks in our own minds going over what we know (again and again) but not knowing how best to move forward.

A Quaker Discernment Circle can be a good way to move forward through any liminal space. These circles hold space for deep listening to your own heart and wisdom and God’s call. This space doesn’t critique and is not intended to be intellectually analysing or deconstructing but hearing spiritually.

Invite as many people as you would like – but it’s easier if it’s not unwieldy and you can all fit around a common table or lounge room floor. This might be 6-10 people say. Good qualities are: people you trust, people who know you well, people that ask good questions, people that are invested in you, friends/mentors/elders…

Quaker expressions  use a lot of silence. Silence is active worship.You will be changed. There is an expectation of that.

In our silence we are together and connected to others present. Don’t worry about what you’re thinking (don’t stress if you start but a shopping list, but…) take a thought as it comes, dwell on it as you need to – it may or may not become ‘ministry’ (you might merely hold or pray it silently without expressing it aloud), someone else might say it, it may not need to be said.  In this listening silence there is no veil(s) between you and God and these intentional spaces can provide ministry that is uncanny to what’s on your heart and mind.

While someone might ask a question aloud…  They do not give “answers”.  Only you have your own answers to deepen your spiritual life.

A loose framework for a Discernment Circle might look something like the following:

Introduction – A facilitator/host says what the space is for and gives and overview of the circle

[silence as we become present to the person
and the purpose of the circle]

Presentation – when they’re ready, the person who is discerning takes as much time as they need to describe what the choices are that lie before them and any/all the ways that is conflicted in their heart/mind/body/spirit.

[silence – the voice of the discerner is held
without judgement or interruption]

Open and Honest Questions – those present may ask questions, they may not. The discerner may elect to answer aloud, they may not. The purpose of the questions isn’t to seek answers (resolve/close) but to open new channels of thought for consideration (broaden/open) thus the questions should be framed an open-ended queries rather than being binary.

[silence – explores the possibilities that may have been opened,
what might this mean for what was first shared]

Mirroring – those present may repeat words or phrases from the discerners presentation that have stood out/echoed/resonated and feel significant.  Sometimes when we are trying to make a choice we can lose sight of what is most important but as we talk there are often clues in our tone, emotion and vocabulary. In this space our community can echo these back to us and help us hear our own deepest yearning. n.b. don’t critique or explain, let the discerners own discernment speak for itself.

[silence – this time of holding the discerner at the center,
their fears and longings, can create a lot of vulnerability.
We are yet “holding”, what can be encouraged and strengthened
as we send this person out?]

Affirmations and Celebrations – it is likely that the discerner has shared a breadth of what they feel called to and responsible for, this is a space for those present to share encouragement that builds up and resources this person as they continue along their Way. What can be affirmed about their passion? What have they shown deep caring for and commitment to? What qualities are demonstrated in the desire to discern well and deeply in whatever choice is being made?

Note: some people might like to have pens and paper on hand for prompts or pictures and it’s sometimes nice to give these to the discerner at the end of the circle.

On the weekend of 24-25 September Whitley College hosted a conference called Constitutions and Treaties: Law, Justice, Spirituality – these are notes from session 8 of 9. We acknowledge that this gathering, listening and learning occurred of the land of the Wurundjeri People of the Kulin Nations and offer our respects to their elders past and present, and all visiting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island visitors present.

Terrific to be part of the Minutes of Evidence project – collaborative performance sparking conversations about structural justice.

British colonisers ran a “Paper Empire” – numbers, counting surveillance… combined with counter-archives (other ways of knowing) can be used to create sources/proofs. Presumption of colonisation (denial of sovereignty) complicit and absolutely imbued in statutes and policies.

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“…powerfully committed to hunting grounds” the Committee couldn’t break or deny this connection to Country… this is why the regional system of Missions was put in place.  The testimony of these men changed the political “solution”/outcomes. Although 50 years later the missions were closed after all and people were centralised.

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On the subject of children being taken away, missionaries testified that:   Those on the Missions knew of all the children in their District when a white couple adopted a girl then no longer wanted her – they were going to send her to Sydney, the Aboriginal people on the Mission appealed to take her in. There is no such things as orphans… every child had two parents. 100s of letters written by Aboriginals exist speaking to self-determination, religious freedom and for rights.

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Political activism was happening pre-1920s.  Is it racial prejudice that dismisses testimony of “pining away” or “affection” for the land as irrational/emotional but this speaks to the depth of feeling of cultural belief/commitment, assertion of rights, sovereignty and justice.  Not able to recognise the implications of what you ‘see’ in front of you but providing testimony of it jsut the same.

The Indigenous Hospitality House are hosting learning circles on a breadth of topics. Here are Samara’s reflections on the Quaker session. Photo credit to IHH.

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Start with silence – business meetings, weddings, funerals, protests… this is an intentional mechanism for listening to the prophetic voice.
On the table in front of us we have flowers [something from creation], the Bible, and “our book” [the Quaker queries and advices].
Calm, relax, let go, forget day/tasks/concerns.
Be present.
For me this is often about my body yielding and a remembering of the nature of love to change.
A service might go an hour or more, let’s try and go for 10 mins and close with “Thank you friends”
These spaces
– don’t critique
– not intellectually analysing/deconstructing
…but hearing spiritually.
Spaces are to address spiritual wellbeing. To provide a space to see and understand spiritually.
Quakers believe no priest of minister can do it for you. The hour of silence is an hour of active worship. You will be changed. There is an expectation of that.
Someone might ask a question aloud… [Quakers might reference their queries and advices book if relevant]. They do not give “answers”
Only you have your own answer to deepen your spiritual life.
e.g. “I want to talk about why I’m sad…”
“We can, but what makes you happy?”
The process reframes.
SILENCE
– together
– connected to others present
– not worried about what your thinking (don’t stress if you start but a shopping list, but…)
– take a thought, dwell on it as you need to – may or may not become ministry.
– no veil(s) between me and God
– ministry uncanny to what’s on your heart/mind.

 

 

IMG_0063I have been struggling recently… just figuring out how to exist well in a world where so much feels obfuscated by the power of things unseen to influence and affect my life.  Things and people that seek to control my choices by limiting my choices. As a way of praying, personal confession and speaking to powers I wanted to somehow create a physical metaphor for the ideas circling in my head and this is how the idea for the veil came about.

What follows here is a series of images that seeks to playfully and prayerfully explore, critique, live-into-being the answer to some of my own questions around this idea of what barriers are coming between us and being able to see God clearly…

Here are some of my queries:

In what ways does this veil shelter or smother me?

How can we know and be known through such thickness that clouds and blinds us?

At a recent team planning day, the facilitator mentioned that the church “as we know it” has 17 years left… it’s dying.  What does this mean if we reflect on the Church as the Bride of Christ? Is the church glorious? …holy and without blemish? ready?

Ephesians 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; 26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, 27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.

Revelation 19:7 Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready.8 And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.9 And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed [are] they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God.

The Greek word ecclesia, for church, means “The called-out (ones)” i.e. the church is its people, if the institutional church as we know it dies – what does that mean for the called? Does God become a widower?

What does it look like to live with full access to God? How can we remove the veil that creates separation between God and humankind?

Covenant symbols in Christianity: BRIDAL VEIL
“Not only does the bridal veil show the modesty and purity of the bride and her reverence for God, it reminds us of the Temple veil which was torn in two when Christ died on the cross. The removing of the veil took away the separation between God and man, giving believers access into the very presence of God. Since Christian marriage is a picture of the union between Christ and the church, we see another reflection of this relationship in the removal of the bridal veil. Through marriage, the couple now has full access to one another. (1 Corinthians 7:4)” [from about.com]

How might we compare and contrast this invisible veil with a hijab or niqab? What is visible and what is hidden by them?

I first wore the headscarf at the age of 18 (with no pressure to wear it from parents at all even though they are very devout religious leaders in our community). My reason for wearing it was that I was at a point in my life where I was growing in my faith journey and wanted to make my surrender to God visible. For me the headscarf was an extension of my prayer (it is exactly what I wear when I pray).  The act of wearing a scarf had nothing to do with a man, whether it was my father, brother or husband. In fact, my husband did not see me without a scarf until we were engaged. This in itself raises an interesting function that many women who wear the scarf also acknowledge- that the scarf can liberate their bodies from the insistent objectification of women in the public space. It demands that people deal with them based on their intellect, values, manners, behavior, ideas, etc and not based on their looks. Quite a strong feminist statement.            – Dr Nora Amath

Is the Church lost? What is it looking for? What does it need? What does it pray for? Is it lonely? Is it static? Is it dead/dying?

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No one knows what makes the soul
wake up so happy

Maybe a dawn breeze has blown the veil
from the face of God.

~ Rumi

 

 

 

N.B. this story contains offensive language and swear words


 

The streets of Melbourne speak.  Buskers busk, beggars beg and people hand out pieces of paper offering good deals on diamonds, discounted burgers or advocating for autonomy of Tibet – everyone has something to say. Mostly we veer round them, but not me.  I have started a new job working with a Christian community development organisation supporting the homeless in Melbourne CBD – these people out on the street are my neighbours, my friends, and I am going to help them and I will make a difference in their lives.

Speak Melbourne, I am listening.

I hop on the 57 tram at Collins St. As it is standing room only, I loiter near the rear door and sitting side-on to me is a man holding a bottle in a paper bag already quite drunk.  He looks old but probably isn’t. A face weathered by life’s experiences and dirt. He clears people to the other end of the tram by being, loudly, verbally offensive to everyone around us.

To the Indian couple opposite chatting softly, “Can’t you speak English? Speak English! F-ing come to our country, you can speak our f-ing language.”

To the Chinese woman beside him, “I can speak your language, sushi! Chopsticks! Kamakaze! Karate!”

To a young Middle Eastern girl, “You’re quite pretty… how much would it cost to buy you? That’s what you do where you come from, right?”

Everyone on the tram pretends to ignore him and looks away – whatever you do, don’t make eye contact with the crazy guy. I felt angry, and ashamed, worried that all these people might think that by staying silent we agree as I find I look away too.  Eventually, a young white guy halfway up the tram calls out, “Keep your peace mate, no one wants to hear what you have to say.”

Crazy Guy stands quickly, “You trying to be a f-ing hero? Showing off for your girlfriend?  None of your f-ing business.”

He has pulled a broken bottle out of his bag and is waving it threateningly. Collectively everyone on the tram holds their breath, still not sure where to look.  Eventually Crazy Guy sits back down again but the ‘hero’ turns to say something to the guy behind him and he’s up again throwing candles at him from his bag shouting, “Shut up! I’m going to burn your f-ing eyes out you c-!”

All of this over a surreal twenty minute ride. I arrive at my stop in North Melbourne and hop off, relieved, so very relieved, the Crazy Guy does not.  I have done nothing, said nothing, and feel upset and guilty.  “Aren’t I meant to know how to do this?”

I ask a colleague Gin the next day, “What I could have done differently?”

“What was his name?”

“Uh, I didn’t exactly introduce myself….” my tone quavering somewhere between sarcasm and incredulity.

“…next time, try and find out what his name is, it really helps to connect with people if you know their name.”

Oo0oO

 

Some weeks later I am hosting dinner at my place unwinding with others from work. The share house I’m in doesn’t have much of a backyard and we have improvised with fish and chips in the middle of the 5-way roundabout where Haines, Dryburgh and Shiel Sts intersect.  It’s a beautiful Melbourne summer evening and we jockey for the minimal shade offered by the three yet-young eucalypts as summer light fades into dusk.  We’ve been there a while when a man crosses the road to ask us, “You got anything to eat?” and we share what we have.

He hangs with us a bit under the darkening sky, asks if we’re Aboriginal, if we’re sitting here because the land is significant to us, and asks my friends Christop and Mehrin when they are getting married, “I can just tell…” though they were only dating then.

Gin asks “What’s your name?”

“Gordy.”

“Where are you staying?”

He points to the flats across the road.

Crazy Tram guy is my neighbour, and now I know his name.

I wait till Gordy leaves to tell the others the connection.  My workmates have been helping me process the experience I had on the tram and it’s almost hard to credit this could be the same person. Calm, softly spoken, clean-shaven, friendly, interesting and interested in who we are.

Gordy is my neighbour, and now I know his name.

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Oo0oO

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I go to the 10th Annual Homeless Memorial. Once a year a motley community gathers to remember those ‘streeties’ or ‘parkies’ who have passed away. You can get hot soup, a hot dog, and warm clothes are available to take away but it is about more than that. It offers an opportunity to reflect on those people with whom we create connections, those with whom we feel ‘at home’, regardless of any material shelter. We remember those who now, or have in the past, offered light or warmth to our lives. Voice is given to the pain of separation from parents, siblings, children, society. Voice is given to the pain of decisions that cannot be unmade, things which cannot be unsaid and knowledge that we cannot go back – only forward. A humble gratitude is offered to ‘the people from the organisations represented here’, supported with warm applause from the crowd in and around the marquee.

We sing. Songs we all know the words to, or hum, or make up. There are no song sheets. You  don’t have to have learned to read to belong here. Our hands are free to cradle lit candles and sprigs of rosemary.

Please swallow your pride
If I have things you need to borrow
For no one can fill those of your needs
That you don’t let show
For it won’t be long
‘Til I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on


They say we stand for nothing and
There’s no way we ever could
Now we see everything that’s going wrong
With the world and those who lead it
We just feel like we don’t have the means
To rise above and beat it
So we keep waiting
Waiting on the world to change
It’s hard to beat the system
When we’re standing at a distance
So we keep waiting
Waiting on the world to change


We hold a minute’s silence, and it is deep and rich and full.

There are names unspoken…tears unshed…and hope unlooked for. We only need to look around to know we are not alone in this grief. We only need to look around to have more than our hunger fed, our coldness clothed… instead we know the truth.

 

We are not strangers to one another as we thought when we arrived.

 

And a last a cappella chorus rings out…

 

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost but now am found
Was blind but now I see

 

Oo0oO

Another pleasant Melbourne evening, my housemate Freya and I are walking her gentle dog Nala to the oval for a play. We have an Ultra Grip Ball Launcher and even with both of us humans to the one of her we know well who will get tired of the game first.

We meet up with Gordy as we cross the road, he is heading home as we head out: “What kind of dog is that? Bitch looks like a dingo.  I’ve killed two dogs with my bare hands, they were coming at me and I just grabbed their front legs and ripped ‘em apart.”

Once he’s gone I try and explain how I don’t think he’s a risk to our pet but I think I make a bad job of it and there’s heightened awareness and extra company on walks in the weeks that follow.  I know enough to know now that Gordy was pretty level tonight.  Eyes clear and cleaned up, he must be in a good place.  He’s just making conversation.  Speaking his truth.  Why do we think about what we need to do to protect our dog and not think about what happened to Gordy that he’s in a situation somehow where he’s defending himself, his life, with his bare hands?

I used to look for the right answers once.  Now I look for the right questions.

Oo0oO

A stranger stops my friend Lyn and I, as we are walking down Swanston Street, to ask an inane question.   She and I do lunch now and then to catch up since I dropped off the corporate ladder. I say something harsh and unkind about him once he leaves. Gormless.

My friend smiles and says, “Sometimes you are very Christian, and sometimes you are so not.”  My smile twists and becomes wry, “No. I’m a Christian all the time,” I say, “…sometimes I’m better at it than others.”

I used to think that helping the poor would make me holy somehow. But I am as holy, and as human, as I have ever been.  Riding that 57 tram home later that day, I see Gordy again. He stands up to let a lady sit down and, when other women get on board, chastises other guys into giving up their seats too.  He flirts with a few girls and makes general conversation, “Hot ain’t it? Where you goin’?”

He says hello to me and I reply “Hi, Gordy, how are you?”

Confused, he answers “I don’t know you, I don’t know you”

I explain about meeting a few times, a long time ago and far apart but he just repeats, again and again, “I don’t know you”.  I get off at the stop after ours, cut home through the park, following the path that winds back and forth instead of cutting across the grass directly like I usually would.  It’s slower. I hold Gordy in my mind. I hold scared Gordy in my mind and slowly make my way home, hoping he’s made it ok to his.

Oo0oO

 

[Five years later…]

I am making my way to Coles to pick up some ingredients for dinner on the way home from work when I see Gordy sitting on the corner of Flinders and Elizabeth St with the cutest puppy sleeping on a blanket at his feet.  My momentum carries me past before my brain catches up and my spirit stirs.  I hesitate, and go back.  “Hey Gordy, I’m just heading into the Coles here, have you eaten? Can I pick up anything for you or the puppy?”

He says, “Nothing for me” proudly, “but some biscuits for the puppy would be great.”

I head in and dither over what to buy: puppy vs. adult food, large dog vs. small dog food, how big a bag if Gordy has to carry it around vs not being generous.  I finally get clear and head to the corner and… I can’t see them… oh.

My mind starts running, Gordy had sort of flinched when I used his name.  He never remembers me.  Maybe he felt suspicious of my motives, paranoid?  I check all directions from the intersection, check out the tram stops hoping to catch sight of him.  Damn it.  I just spent $15 on dog food I don’t have a use for.  Should I leave it here at the corner in case he comes back?  Did I take too long?  Did he assume I wasn’t coming back? Sigh.  The reasons for stopping in the first place were right.  It doesn’t matter that he isn’t here.

But it does.

I am disappointed by the ‘squandered’ generosity that goes unappreciated.

Oh well, Ray and Ben’s dogs will have a litter of puppies soon – it will be used eventually…

I cross to Flinders St Station and wait on the platform for the train. Last I know he lived in North Melbourne – I’m heading to Footscray where I live now – same line so I’m still scanning the platforms hoping to catch sight of him. Nothing. No sign. I find an empty seat on the train when it pulls up and slump down in the keep-to-myself-don’t-talk-to-me mode I generally assume on public transport.  The train moves off, the doors at the back of the carriage open and I idly muse on what it is people are looking for when they move down through the train while it’s moving when there are free seats everywhere? As I stare blankly at the dark tunnel walls slipping past.  The group, two guys and a girl, sit down across the aisle from me, and… beside me.  One of them is Gordy.

I very casually say, “Oh, could you pass this over for me?’

I see the surprise. Surprise I see them? That I will talk to them? That I will recognise Gordy without his hand out?  That I actually came through with the dog biscuits? Gordy moves to sit next to me with the puppy so ‘he’ (the puppy) can thank me, he is soft and adorable.  We chat all the way to Footscray, one of his mates eats the Snickers I threw in. Gordy says “I’ll definitely remember you this time.” I have my doubts and sitting together, sharing together, it feels entirely unimportant.  Though I have hope.

I’m still not holy.  Gordy isn’t a hero in this story, nor am I. We’re pretty much still the people we were at the start.  Still living.  I have learned that I can’t wait on the world to change. I have to start with myself.  Our conversation falls into silence, and it is deep and rich and full.

I don’t need Gordy to remember my name; that might be too hard or asking too much.  What I want him to remember is being reached out to, the mutuality of our exchanges. Equal parts in the same whole… it humbles and humiliates me.  I hope he feels looked for, I hope he feels found – as I have been.

The streets of Melbourne speak.  Buskers busk, beggars beg and people hand out pieces of paper offering good deals on diamonds, discounted burgers or advocating for autonomy of Tibet – everyone has something to say. Mostly we veer round them, but not me.  I’m in a different job these days, these are still my neighbours though and my friends – I know better now.  We help each other sometimes and our lives are different, better, for the knowing of each other. Listen Melbourne, I am speaking…

“What’s your name?”

 

 

Talitha Fraser


 

I wrote this piece a short story entry for the inaugural Brotherhood of St Lawrence Hope Prize “to encourage writing that transcends stereotypes of ‘the poor’ and reflects the resilience we know that people show in the face of poverty and testing times”. I didn’t win or anything so I can share my piece here – the years that I worked with the homeless community (largely through Seeds and Urban Seed) in Melbourne were transformative and it feels good to have an opportunity/ excuse to reflect on and share some learnings from that time. Thanks to Katherine, Susan and Sally for handholding me through the writing and editing process – this is noticeably tighter than my usual work thanks to you!

There is love

imag0265

 

There is love and there is love.
What would You call me into?
What is love that does not
arc towards wholeness?
What is love unlived, unfamiliar, unrecognisable?
A strangers face.
I have been here before.
How will you help me stranger?
How will you help me know you
and, in the knowing, know myself?
Let us walk on a little way together yet
and speak of love.

Talitha Fraser