Friday, January 04, 2008

Farewell


Yesterday we lost a giant, and I, dear Gareth, Mark, Martin, Colin, Cary, PIp, the Greenbelt community and many more lost a friend.

...now go drink whiskey with the Almighty and frustrate the angels my friend. I came out of blog retirement for a moment just for you, my e-mail to you still in the outbox....unfinished. There is will remain...rest eternal you beautiful man, rest eternal. You are missed.

'May there be some beautiful surprise
Waiting for you inside death
Something you never knew or felt,
Which with one simple touch
Absolves you of all loneliness and loss,
As you quicken within the embrace
For which your soul was eternally made.

'May your heart be speechless
At the sight of the truth
Of all your belief had hoped,
Your heart breathless
In the light and lightness
Where each and every thing
Is at last its true self
Within that serene belonging
That dwells beside us
On the other side
Of what we see.'

(John O'Donohue, who passed away peacefully in his sleep January 3, 2008)

Monday, December 31, 2007

Gates of Time.....


"Lost in love and found in reason
Questions that the mind can find no answers for
Ghostly eyes conspire treason as they gather just outside the door
And every ghost that calls upon us brings another measure in the mystery
Death is there to keep us honest and constantly remind us we are free

Down the ancient corridors, through the gates of time
Run the ghosts of days that we've left behind..."
(Dan Fogelberg 1951-2007): Ghosts



For a while now I have flirted with this post

And at last (to my relief) it's here

This will be my last entry. Two years ago I started blogging 'to save on therapy' - these days it gives me more headaches than heart-filled moments of pleasure or hope. So, finally, this part of my journey is closing.

I have decided to finally put some bloody time into finishing the damn book I started after I finished my MA - I've given it a catchy title:

Asylum: Comfort for the Spiritual Refugee

Based on my thesis....it's a book of hope about my heart for those who live in the waste-lands and margins of spirituality, for the kind of inclusive community that brings the kind of solace and comfort that challenges, enriches and elevates our souls.

A Bruce Springsteen song profoundly moved me: Land of Hopes and Dreams. Based on an old folk song called ‘This Train’ that had often been performed by Woody Guthrie, this new song seemed to encapsulate the possibility of redemption for all those people who were beat up and broken on the wheels of living. Those people who struggled to find a spiritual home; those refugees caught in a divine asylum. It is a song that gives integrity and hope to the human spirit which aches from within the stress of the most desperate conditions, a song which gives an alternative promised land to the one most spiritual refugees meet; no abject hostility, no shame, and no destitution – just a place of belonging where sunlight streams, where we meet in a land of hope and dreams. In short it became a hymn to perseverance:


My final thoughts for this blog though are rooted in sad days, in the loss of those who should have had more years in the sun, in those we lost too soon. Two beautiful people who left this world so very recently. Jackie Bowell, wife, mum, sister, aunty who now leaves a huge gap in our family - a woman of grace, love, compassion, courage and spirit - whose greatest legacy I think was that she helped everyone she met, and she did that because she loved without condition. Put simply she embodied selflessness and that's why now, many feel a great chasm.

Then there was Mr Fogelberg - an artist whose music has shaped thousands and helped us dream and capture the hopeless romantic within us. His voice like velvet, his storytelling drew us to the mystery and struggles of love and life. His music, philosophy on life (particularly Native Americans) without any question changed my life during my travels through North America over a period of months in 1994.

Dan left us on December 16 at 6:00am . He fought a brave battle with cancer and died peacefully at home in Maine with his wife Jean at his side. His strength, dignity, and grace in the face of the daunting challenges of this disease were an inspiration to all who knew him.

Once more my friend Martin Wroe describes how I feel about death far more beautifully than I......

Death is:
Death is so far away
that you can't see it,
(when you are a child)
and so close
you can almost touch it,
(when you are old)

In between
we keep it waiting
at a polite distance
(not wanting it to interrupt our flow)

Death is
the end of everything.
And then
everything
carries on
without you

Death is highly predictable
and, usually, most unexpected
disorganising your affairs
(and your marriage)
frustrating your plans
for your whole day
deleting the calendar
of the life you had organised

We spend our lives
hoping we will never die
fearing we will never live
wondering if there is a compromise

Death is
for making us wonder
what life is

Death is
our quiet companion
beside us
from the day we are born.
standing next to us,
courteous, discreet
waiting its moment,
breathless

Death is
a shock to the system
(particularly for the living)
It is
the beyond which,
beyond which we do not step

Death is
a clean cut through the tangled fabric of our friendships
a pinpoint thrust in the heart of all that we love

Death is
a serial killer, refusing to admit
it has lost its sting
(Pointing, reasonably, everywhere for proof)
An everyday terrorist
Detonating unknown futures
Where nothing, no more, goes to plan

Death is
Attended by many words and many tears
And a singular solitary ache

Death leaves a scar in a place
not located by x-ray
not healed by conventional medicine

Death speaks a language all of its own
words from a tongue you never knew you had
the great unspeakable
failing to express
the great unknown

Death is
a frame hung
around our days
three score years and ten wide
600 million breaths deep

Death is
stepping back for a better look
reflecting, regretting
wondering, lamenting
appreciating, understanding
This abstract expressionism
that is all our days

Death is life
(for a second)
Zooming into focus

Death is
a post-it note on your heart
'Today.
Don't Forget.
Live'.

Death is parting
Less them from us
Than us from them
Part of us had gone with them
We have become separated from ourselves
We will not be ourselves again
Not until this parting is over
Then we will also feel like ourselves

Death is punctuation
comma, semi-colon,
Death is not a full stop
Death is not a sentence

Death is the absence
(not of your life, just your pulse)

Death is
everything to be frightened of
and nothing to fear
a valley of shadow
tread carefully
fear no evil

Death is the limit of your sight
stretch out your hand
it's there
got it?
hold tight to rod and staff

Death is
followed
pretty quickly
by going to ground
In the ground is a mystery
Which you cannot see - it is hidden
Which you cannot hear - it is silent

Death is
a seed buried in pitch black
Intelligent,
Of time and season,
Knowing, beyond knowing,
Of all that's ahead
You have to be buried
in order to rise again
The darkness covers death
but
death knows
it is always waiting
to be overcome

Breath out
for the last time
Breathe in
Like never before
(The Sky's Window: Lines and lyrics in search of a numinous now - available at lulu.com)


Two years ago on January 1st I, and a couple of mates, went into the mountains for an ice climb to welcome in the New Year. We climbed Blencathra by Sharp Edge which, with its high exposure, is one of the most difficult ridges in the Lakes – throw in Freezing snow and ice and it became a veritable tour de force on a beautiful clear but cold day. I’ve been climbing trees for years but mountains are something else, still, the two guys who were climbing with me weren’t exactly novices.

I was sandwiched in between two Marines, my brother-in-law Craig, a Sergeant, who having served in Bosnia and Iraq (twice) last year called it a day because of his disillusionment with our presence there, and Darren (aka Swifty), who is one of only fourteen people in over a hundred years to be awarded the ‘Stand Hope’ Gold Medal by the Royal Humanic Society. He was given this honour for rescuing a man on the summit of Everest four years ago. Due to head for the summit some time during the following 24 hours his team became aware of someone in difficulty. He sacrificed his chance at the top of the world at 7,600 meters at Camp 5 to save another. It still is the highest rescue that has ever been made on Everest. Suffice to say, I was in pretty good company on the extremity of ‘Sharp Edge’.


Just yesterday though, the same close family who lost dear aunty jackie had to deal with a man who fell from this ridge - he fell a long way - in vain they tried to keep him alive, but his injuries were too horrific.

Just days after saying goodbye to a wife and a mum, this - in trying to find solace in the hills, more death. Sting was right...how fragile we are

When I heard of Aunty Jackie's passing I put down these words, ‘Last night felt the sky fall, and it just kept on falling, relentlessly out of my control.’ She was gone, she was gone to a place I’ve heard of, a place I’ve even allowed myself to dream of, even journey toward, yet in my dreams I always return, Aunty Jackie cannot. I talked with close friends concerning how we might best deal with this kind of loss. We concluded that just maybe we need to look into the void that remains, be still, and sit with that emptiness for a while.

This life we lead is not the kind that gives us any peace of mind. I’m not sure it was ever meant to. There are times when I find myself enveloped in circumstances which beg me to ask of God the question, ‘Why?’ Less cynical people might counter the question by asking ‘why not?’ I think, from a place that is not often visited, I know what they mean; but I am not in a place where I can neither say it with any conviction nor own it.

These things can’t be explained; why it happens, the providence of God and the mysteries of life and death are the very fibre of our faith. They were gifts of love and life, and so are we, let us not turn our backs on them. A friend penned the words that, ‘love is as strong as death, and many waters cannot quench it when it’s true.’ The bible talks of love being set as a seal on our hearts. These are beautiful and affirming words, until that love somehow seems to be erased in some fashion. There are those who now stand before the abyss, not knowing how to put one foot forward for fear of falling. I suppose the fear is that you just keep on falling, and that you’ll never make it back. Some journeys though are harder to make than others, and for the broken hearted who mourn, the journey may seem impossible.

Philip Yancey suggests that, ‘sometimes the only meaning we can offer suffering people is the assurance that their suffering, which has no apparent meaning for them, has meaning for us.’ Our real power lies in our brokenness and pain, and it’s a power that even the angels in heaven do not have. There is no rhyme or reason to it, but Jesus ruins our lives, yet out of those ruins he does make something more beautiful than we can imagine – it’s just a different kind of beauty than this world is ruled by.

Bebo Norman sang, ‘It was not your time, that’s a stupid line. A fallen world took your life.’ This is a hard truth to face though when the void you stand before is as wide as the Grand Canyon. Maybe that’s what living for a cause greater than ourselves enables us to do – to face eternity with the strength that comes from faith. For those left behind, somewhere deep inside, I believe there is an assurance, even today, in our culture of isolation and death, of hope in a Nazarene who embodies a bigger picture and a bigger love. My prayer is that we all have the courage to find it, regardless of what the journey holds. Jesus always had a very special place in his heart for the broken…and I do not believe for a moment that anything has changed.


Thanks for journeying a while with a vagabond and ragamuffin - just because I will not be blogging doesn't mean I won't be dropping by the gems that have amused, stretched and stirred my soul - who knows, I may even comment!

Grace and beer always.....and a very happy new year to all, from Australia through London, Belfast through to Canada and the West Coast of America.....I'll be seeing you!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

The day we put aside to remember Aids


(Susan Segu: HIV +)

More than 25 million people have died of AIDS since 1981.
Africa has 12 million AIDS orphans.
By the end of 2005, women accounted for 48% of all adults living with HIV worldwide, and for 59% in sub-Saharan Africa.
Young people (15-24 years old) account for half of all new HIV infections worldwide - around 6,000 become infected with HIV every day.
Of the 6.5 million people in developing and transitional countries who need life-saving AIDS drugs, only 1.3 million are receiving them.

AND....Global Military Spending now tops $1T

Not so long ago Donald Rumsfeld aimed critisicm at China's military spending, suggesting that; “Since no nation threatens China, one must wonder: Why this growing investment? Why these continuing large and expanding arms purchases?” A question he may well ask of himself. According to a report recently released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute Global Military Spending topped $1Trillion in 2004. The United States accounted for 47 percent of all military expenditures, while Britain and France each made up 5 percent of the total. In all, 15 countries accounted for 82 percent of the world's total military spending. The BBC reported last month that Chinese military spending increased by 12% in 2004 to $25Bn - or one twentieth of what the US spends.

Makes me want to puke

The problem is not just about Aids it’s about poverty. As photojournalist Don McCullin describes: ‘this isn’t just a medical situation. It’s a combination of things. But the primary cause is poverty, which leads to hunger and despair.” Whilst in Tanzania a couple of years ago I met with a group of women (Susan being one of them), all of whom had tragic stories to tell, all of whom are (if still alive) living with full blown Aids, all of whom (bar one) would be leaving children behind when they die – this they said was the hardest part of living with the disease. I remember stopping writing when they told me this because there were no words to describe how I felt...

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Goodness...oh, and a new job



mercy is the road we walk.......

'The gospel no longer benefits the poor essentially. In fact, Christianity has now even become a downright injustice to those who suffer (although we are not always conscious of this, and certainly unwilling to admit to it). Today the gospel is preached to the rich, the powerful, who have discovered it to be advantageous. We are right back again to the very state original christianity wanted to oppose! The rich and powerful not only get to keep everything, but their success becomes the mark of their piety, the sign of their relationship to God. And this promts the old atrocity again - namely, the idea that the unfortunate, the poor are to blame for their condition; that it is because they are not pious enough, are not true christians, that they are poor, whereas the rich have not only pleasure but piety as well. This is supposed to be Christianity. compare it with the New Testament, and you will see that it is as far from that as possible.'
(Kierkegaard)

He penned these words quite some time ago....not much has changed really and it seems we don't learn much at all.

As I have always thought, the real fragrance of God is found in Gethsemene and Calvary....

...and maybe for the poor the gospel is good news because it is a sign of God's nearness...ironically when Jesus wishes were not met, and his own dad turned away....

Annie Dillard said that there is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by. I think she may be right.

Talking of which, I forgot to mention - got a new job last week - I now work for Government (I hung up my chain saws). Ironic that it is I cannot say anymore than that as I've signed the secrecy act. Suffice to say, it's my journey into politics - the new chapter begins. 'Fix it from the inside; that's what the grown ups do'. Isn't that what President Santos said in the final episode of the West Wing?

My attempt at a good life, maybe this is my path....