Saturday, July 31, 2010

Listen and live

Why listen?

Sometimes I get so caught up in the pursuit of ideas that I forget why I need them at all. I can find revelations and reminders. I can collect them, absorb them, examine them kaleidoscopically. But what then? A growing collection of collated and filed inspirations? I picture a shelved wall, laden with books, a rainbow of parallel spines. But dusty, shut-silent, unread. Beautiful and trapped.

An idea not experienced is just words. Living it is the breath of real existence for that thought. Enacting ideas gives them power and permanence. We turn away from the mirror and remember the visage.

So I ask myself again. Why listen? Why read? Why observe? To learn, but ultimately, to LIVE.

A man teaches and tells stories by a Galilee lake, and in a holy, templed city. He is like a shepherd calling his sheep, inviting them to listen and know him. The fruit of following such a shepherd is great.

"My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.
I give them eternal life, and they will never perish."
John 10:27-28.
But his words are hard, too. Exacting. Expecting obedience. Inviting transformation. It is impossible to listen to this man, and really hear him, and not be changed. To really hear him, is to follow him, to put it into practice.
“Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock."
Matthew 7:24-25.

To live it is to do more than just listen. Let it invade our lives, infect everything we do, infiltrate our hearts, penetrate our minds. This word that we listen to, this spirit that speaks the words of God within us, they are powerful to change us and shape us. If we let them. If the listening, becomes hearing, becomes doing.

But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says.
Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.
For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. 
You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like.
But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.
James 1:22-25.

Powerful words. I listen, I try not to forget. I look at my life and I see that my house is built on rock, but sometimes I forget. I forget to be patient. I forget to have mercy. I forget that I am not the centre of the universe. I look in the mirror then forget what I look like.

Each day I need to listen, again. Listen to hear. Hear to obey. Listen to live.

The voice of God from heaven called Peter, James and John to listen to Jesus.

and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy. Listen to him.” Matthew 17:5.

Moses taught the people of Israel to sing of listening to God's word like allowing a rain to fall upon them. A refreshing, life-giving, nurturing rain.
“Listen, O heavens, and I will speak!
Hear, O earth, the words that I say!
Let my teaching fall on you like rain;
let my speech settle like dew.
Let my words fall like rain on tender grass,
like gentle showers on young plants.
Deuteronomy 32:1-2

Listen carefully to the words of our God, they quench thirst, they provide solid foundations, they bring life. You will know his voice. Listen and live.

 linked to

holy experience

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Rain poem

There are holes in the sky
Where the rain gets in
But they're ever so small,
That's why rain is thin.
Spike Milligan

I learnt this poem from my grandparents, who loved to read us Spike's poems. It reminds me of visiting at their place...
air filled with the smell of sawdust and varnish
sitting on paisley flannelette cushions
eating home crumbed fried flathead
bobbed haircuts courtesy of Emily
Hardy's laughter
goodbye dances in the middle of the road
treadle Singer sewing machine
all sitting in the fold-out sofa bed watching Charles marry Diana
they never smoked, but had an ashtray that spun the ash away

small, idiosyncratic, precious memories prompted by the rain today. Does that happen to you?

Monday, July 26, 2010

The power of the story

There's a room upstairs, with wide windows, curtains pushed back. Only sun and clouds can see a girl, in a bean bag. She's living in the story held firmly between her folded hand and the crook of her elbow. Her eyes follow roads of words, winding over paper.

There's a world where she doesn't have to be worried or shy. Where imagination makes her what she would dearly love to be. But there's an ache at the end of the turning of the pages. When the bump of falling back to earth and looking in the mirror, just accentuates the distance The distance from the lifeline she has traversed in her mind to the room upstairs with windows. And downstairs lacks the dreamscape rightness of a book.

Slowly she gets older and downstairs fits more easily. Life becomes manageable and brings its own treasures. Somehow, though, the stories of her childhood retain a smell, a taste, a sound and feeling that is the comfort of home.

Stories are woven into my life since I could listen to them read to me, and slowly learnt to decipher them myself. I've read books on buses, on trains, in cars, in bed, at the table, on the beach, while walking, while taking (brief) notes in lectures and when avoiding study. I've also grown to love the stories people tell of their lives. Telling me a story from your life is a great gift, to me.

I love the process of getting to know the characters, the setting up of the dilemma, and then the resolution (or not, sometimes).There is something so enthralling about the unfolding and revelation. And something so heart-breaking about leaving that revelation behind. I have finished books and been left with an ache in my chest for a few days.

One of the reasons I love the story of Jesus is the way the narrative grabs me and pulls me in like the books that filled my growing up. I am drawn to the dilemma and the revelation. But the added dimension is what seals the deal for me. The story, instead of leaving me bereft at the end, incorporates me and welcomes me. I don't have to put this book down, because it has become my life.

The story is of my broken life being brought home and gently repaired so that I can participate with God in making a new world. Daily he tells me the story again so that I can get up, dust myself off and join in.
Everyone will share the story of your wonderful goodness;
they will sing with joy about your righteousness.
The LORD is merciful and compassionate,
slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
The LORD is good to everyone.
He showers compassion on all his creation.
Psalm 145:7-9

Thankfulness for participating in the story,

990.   imagination and newly-created games
991.   frustrated mornings redeemed
992.   the support I take for granted
993.   Sunday afternoon family time - in the kitchen
994.   a visit from mum
995.   lots and lots of washing, folded and away
996.   falling asleep in front of a DVD
997.   the scent of jonquils
998.   the power of narrative
999.   the gift of stories
1000. the invitation to participate
1001. 1000 thankfulnesses and the good things that they bring

Thanks to Ann Voskamp at Holy Experience who started the Gratitude Community. Counting 1000 gifts has been an encouraging discipline.


holy experience

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


"That was my favourite walk, ever. It's the best in the twilight." Carefree joy of a boy with new words on his lips. Twilight. Dusk.
He listens to me and the ideas I speak build expanding concepts in him. Now he can name twilight, and he delights in doing it.
Keep listening my son, listen, learn, grow.

Stillness. At the end of the bumpy road. Valley like a bowl cradling fog.
Sit and listen in the stillness.
“Be still, and know that I am God!
I will be honored by every nation.
I will be honored throughout the world.”

Neuron by Roxy Paine at the MCA (Sydney Biennale, 2010)

Listen. An impulse runs along stretching, linking cell projections. A single instrument in an orchestra of radiating sensation. Somehow these neurones can perceive, collate and interpret the sound around me. In milliseconds I respond. I can shape an appropriate thought, vocalise it and be understood by the one who listens to me. Miraculously, earth-shatteringly, simply, effortlessly brilliant.

Listening takes me into messy places. Again and again I hear pain. I hear the terrifying, hopelessly trapped results of an unplanned crime. I hear the wish to die because life is too hard or too hopeless. I hear language blurred, marred and tumbling out tossed into salad. Memories fading, perceptions tricked as unbodied voices scare psychotic people.

Maybe listening is my gift. I lay it unwrapped in the lap of the broken. Maybe I share grace by really listening, by the inefficiency of stopping and listening. Listening to the story I don't need to sit for because I already know what needs doing. It can wait, you need to be heard.

Farm Shots

Experimental shots taken down at my Dad's place.
I've just learnt about the rule of thirds from Claire.

Monday, July 19, 2010

A call to pray

What is it like to leave your home and make a new one? To travel to a new continent so that God can use you to bless other people?

Yesterday we listened to a family who shared their experience of cross-cultural mission work, in southern Africa. Stories of being evacuated by plane with a sick child, and being attacked at home. Seeing people suffering in ways that I cannot readily picture because of my easy access to healthcare and resources. I can imagine thinking 'What is going on? Why are we here?'

But Jonno didn't stop there. He told us stories filled with hope. People healed after prayer. He reminded us of John the Baptist, having seen the anointed, baptised Christ, still needing reassurance when he languished in prison. The messenger who prepared the Messiah's way still needed to hear the good news, to be refreshed...

Jesus told them, “Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen—the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor. And tell him, ‘God blesses those who do not turn away because of me.’ Matthew 11:4-6.
No matter where we live, people struggle, life can be hard. When we feel torn apart, abandoned, rejected or broken, it can be the hardest time to remember who Jesus is. Trusting God can be clinging on to a rocky outcrop with fingernails jagged and bleeding.

Jonno and Heather and their kids live among a marginalised, poor group of people. These people come to Jonno and ask him to pray when they are in need. They seek his prayer instead of going to the Moslem leaders in their villages. Prayer has resulted in miracles and people meeting Jesus. It is challenging that these people seek prayer with the same unquestioning faith that leads us to seek medical attention for sickness.

Check out Global Interaction 
Again and again, I hear God saying, "You are not helpless. You can pray."

My cousin dies, leaving a son not yet ten years old. They don't live close, I wish and wonder ways to help. There is not much that I can give to bless this boy, to care for my aunt, her children and grand-children. But I can pray.

Thanks today for,

961.  prayer
962.  people who pray persistently
963.  prayer answered with miracles
964.  a glimpse of life in Africa
965.  Jonno and Heather and their family
966.  church family meals
967.  encouraging conversation
968.  people asking for prayer
969.  a God who listens, hears and acts
970.  the mystery of answers to prayers
971.  needing to pray

holy experience

Friday, July 16, 2010


What am I here for?

I started writing and thinking here, in order to listen better.

I have been listening to my children's mother and am amazed at some of the things she says. Let me rephrase that ... I am ashamed of the things I say. Over-reactions. Angry accusing words. "How dare you?"s. Words that belittle, discourage and dig gulfs between us. Apologies for words spoken hastily, words that cannot be unsaid. A wise man once illustrated by trying to get us to put toothpaste back in a tube. Words do not go back into mouths unspoken.

Matthew told me today what Jesus had to say about hastily spoken words.
“Don’t you understand yet?” Jesus asked. “Anything you eat passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer. But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile you. Eating with unwashed hands will never defile you.” Matthew 15:16-20.
Simon, a name that means 'one who hears', but some would say it means 'one who obeys'. One who acts on what they hear.

I have recently prayed for ears that really hear. I wasn't counting on hearing my own sin so clearly. The phrases I hear rushing out, in stressed moments, are a word picture of my heart - defiled and desperately needing grace.

I want to listen, to hear and I need the spirit bringing grace to do something about it.


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

I don't know

'Any philosopher's argument which does not therapeutically treat human suffering is worthless; for just as there is no profit in medicine when it does not expel the diseases of the body, so there is no profit in philosophy when it doesn't expel the sufferings of the mind.' Epicurus.
We search. We stretch our thoughts, our minds, and explore to gather morsels of meaning. Heartfelt longing for a feast of truth, so we can know and understand. This longing is a gift, a desire that can drive us Godward.

Gradually, we place the multitude of puzzle pieces into a mosaic. Gleaning, gathering, for the Big Picture. The Truth. Are we satisfied with the answers we find? Often we are, we can be bold in our answers, intrepid in searching. But sometimes we are not. Sometimes I am not.

The balance for the search is that we cannot always know enough. We cannot look at the whole sky from horizon to horizon, 360 degrees, without moving our heads and shifting perspective. We lose sight of the beginning when we turn to see the conclusion. Oh, for fish-eye lensed eyes.

The dialectic of earnest truth-seeking with the difficulty of finite mind knowing infinite truth.

Suffering begs the question 'why?' Sometimes we even cling to the wrong answer just because it feels safer than not knowing. Is that man blind because of his parents' sin? Did my child die because of my failure to care for them? Am I alone because I am not good enough? Do those people starve because God doesn't care?

Sometimes 'I don't know' is the hardest idea we could ever express. Indeed, me not having a clear, cogent, compelling response, does not mean it doesn't exist. It just means I am yet to find it.

I think that Jesus' answer to suffering is enough for me. But it isn't enough for everyone. Why not?

To seek, to wonder, to question is an attitude we need to have. But we need to stop and rest sometimes. To say 'I don't know' and trust. Trust that there is someone who can see the whole sky, horizon to horizon, all points of the compass.
We don't yet see things clearly. We're squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won't be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We'll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! 1 Corithians 13:12 (The Message)

A reflection on Rest, in response to Ann at Holy Experience's Walk With Him Wednesday.

holy experience

Our kids love this book

We read 'Harry Highpants' at the dinner table this evening. In honour of Tony Wilson being a regular face on 'Santo, Sam and Ed's Cup Fever'. (Our favourite show for the last 4 weeks).

It's a great tale of fighting for freedom and speaking out against fear politics and 'nanny-states'. It's a great story for putting on voices and enjoying the drama.

"I vote and I wear pants!"

Read it if you can.

Tea Cosy

I made this for a friend. It felt more impressive than it looks!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Notice It.

"Can we go to Grandad's place in the holidays?"

Last night. The car is packed ... clothes - check, sleeping bags - check, gumboots - check, children - check, dog in a travel box... etc. The kids and I wave back at Dad as we leave, drive out the driveway ... then back in to pick up forgotten essentials. The trip was smooth other than the reappearance of a dinner unexpectedly. Thank goodness for the spare pyjamas I had carried absently to the car, (not quite sure why).

Today my father has driven kids around in the trailer with a load of lucerne, then on the back of the tractor to go down to the dam. He has carried baby boy to soothe his crying. He has made us lunch and dinner and distributed kind and gentle words throughout. He mowed the lawn and sat with me to enjoy a quiet winter-sun cuppa.

I have talked with my step-mum (who welcomes conversation and drinks it in), and she made me an espresso coffe and offered me a glass of wine with dinner. I have stepped into an oasis. A quiet place where the demands of home and life seem slower and less insistent.

I read part of the weekend paper. Somehow that seems an enormous achievement.

Today I give thanks for...

922.  grandparents
923.  2 days in the country
924.  kids on the back of a tractor
925.  feeding the animals
926.  ibuprofen and paracetamol
927.  a father's love
928.  meals prepared with a desire to serve
929.  dogs playing and racing
930.  holidays
931.  playing in the shed
932.  long afternoon baby naps
933.  my father's quietness and gentleness
934.  reading Spectrum and Good Weekend
935.  savouring the moment.

Stop. Sit. Soak in the slanted rays of sun on my skin, on the dark denim cloth as it rests on my legs. See the dapples of light on the freshly mown grass. The bare branched trees with their bumps of pre-leaves, hinting at shade that will be. Breathe in the shorn lawn smell. Notice the memories that drift in my mind of these smells, these sights, sounds and tastes. Notice the feel of a dog on my lap, leaping up as the baby slides down to wander a little. Safe and settled. This moment is a gift from God to refresh me.
Notice it.

holy experience

Friday, July 9, 2010

Opinions #2

Opinions are like a packet of chips...

Great to share with your friends over a beer at the pub,
but a stranger sitting next to you on the bus is not quite so keen to be offered them.

(Newsjack, BBC 4)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Learning who to trust

"I don't need religion in my life." A slight glance at me and he qualifies the statement, "It's good for some people, but I'm fine without that."

A brief allusion to purpose, something more than the material and this life in the flesh, and the conversation has already moved on...

Then today was a day of choices, decisions and expressing opinions. A day of doubting my judgement, feeling inadequate, a deep anxiety that keeps thoughts ticking over, and over. Did I say enough? Did I get it right? Who am I to question, to change the plan?

I can't trust myself. I know, too well, my blindnesses, the gaps in my knowledge, my tendency to rush in and reconsider later. The times I speak quickly with passion then wonder if I've stepped on breakables.

Responsibility, wisdom and thoughtfulness are qualities I aspire to. But where does reliance on self become a symptom of pride or self-idolatry? Does my anxiety about getting it right spring from a desire to serve well or am I just self-obsessed?

Admit that the buck stopping with me, completely, is wearying and heavily burdensome.

I need the God-with-me taste of bread and wine in my mouth. To grasp the cornerstone truth of a Lord who knows best. He who sees the beginning, the middle, the end of the story all at once.

Rest is knowing that even when I don't know the answer, he does.

Rest is knowing that even when I get it wrong, he can make good of it.

Rest is the prayer that admits incompleteness, that I'm not fine without him. The prayer that puts the anxieties and obsessions into his hands and allows him to bear them, and me.

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”  Matthew 11:28-30.

holy experience

photos from stockxchng.

Monday, July 5, 2010


I grumble from the moment my feet touch the floor, till I briskly walk out the door. Late. It seems an understatement to say, ... again.

The temptation to list a litany of brokeness beckons me. Leave it unspoken. Draw thoughts to the blessings bumped against me today. I want to have the eyes that see. Really see. The ears that discern truly.

The thankfulness perspective...

905.  satirical TV
906.  a boy who knows what he likes
907.  hens laying eggs in cold weather
908.  noticing new things
909.  thoughts calmed
910.  my children forgiving my irritability and tiredness
911.  reading at bedtime
912.  trips to the farm
913.  Nambucca Heads generosity
914.  fearless climbing
915.  compassion

the fearless climber

holy experience

A poem about summer?

Buttoned up, gloved
Summer is synaptic,
buried under brittle, white grass.
The other solstice just past,
slowly lengthening light.
Hidden, hibernating limbs
hold the burn of long-day, slow-passage sun,
Heat disappearing signals the promise of return.
Swathed skin waits.

 linked to Random acts of poetry at HighCallingBlogs

Thursday, July 1, 2010

What does a Sabbath really look like?

In the making of this world, there was work. An idea, an inspiration spoken into existence. A myriad of sights, sounds and awarenesses sprang (or perhaps gently eased) into existence. Living things fashioned to cohabit a vast and variegated universe. I cannot concieve in my thought-space how one perfect being could execute the birth (gestation and labour) of everything.

The work was done with purpose and with pleasure. Enjoyment of the results of the labour. The work culminated in rest. That seventh, Sabbath, day became special because the work ceased and because the worker enjoyed.

How do we live out a Sabbath now? What does it mean to have rest, as is part of the LORD's commands to Moses. In 24/7 world is it possible to live out a Sabbath day for the LORD?

I admit I am puzzled and that I struggle to rest.

I admit that I hang out my washing on sunny Sunday mornings before church, because school uniforms need to be dry to be worn on Monday. I admit that I am not sure if  people look out the window of our church and tsktsk when they see me do it.

Being busy, completing tasks, ticking boxes and cultivating efficiency are often ways to manage feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, guilt and loneliness. Sometimes I want to be busy so that people admire me or what I do. Most often it is so that God doesn't think I'm lazy or faithless. So that I can be reassured that I'm one of the 'good' people.

As I stare in the mirror I am starting to see a Pharisee, a self-righteous person. I struggle to rest because I'm secretly convinced that I am God, and that nothing will survive without me.

I need to rest, need it deep in my soul. The purpose of work is not to define me. It's purpose is to sustain me so I can enjoy God and his work. 

I need to be dispensible so that I can rely on God.
I need to grow weary and heavy-laden so I can go to Jesus and have his rest.
I need to be a child of God rather than do child of God type stuff.

The truths I need to hold together today...
God values work done to serve, to provide, to care and to grow.
God values rest, work ceased, enjoyment and celebration of him.

How can I weave them together?

Rest is the fulfilment of work. When I rest, then can I really listen. Without the discipline of rest, my work is dead.

holy experience

(photo from stockxchng.)