Friday, 30 June 2017


Next Friday I will have the privilege of being part of a conversation between Laurence Freeman and Aboriginal elder Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr in Sydney. The idea is to explore the connections between Christian contemplation and 'dadirri' - which Miriam-Rose has described as 'inner, deep listening and quiet, still awareness'. Miriam-Rose speaks of practising dadirri particularly when she is in nature - when she sits on a riverbank or walks through trees.

The sense of dadirri was present for me this Wednesday. The morning was foggy and cold, but I was drawn to walk on Black Mountain. We'd heard recently of a walk starting half-way up the mountain and I went looking for it.

Well, I don't think I found the one I'd been told of, but I entered instead upon another one - Lakeview Walk - which headed back quite steeply down the hill.

Despite spending most of my life in Canberra, I haven't spent much time on Black Mountain. I was struck by how much it felt at the centre of things. The sound of traffic on the roads below was constant, but that noise had the effect of making the silence of the bush in the foggy, still morning seem very 'loud'. As if this mountain is a monumental, still centre around which our busy lives swirl.

The view was big - across to Mount Painter to the west, and across the Arboretum and the lake to the south and east.

I sat for quite a while on a (cold) rock at the edge of the path, overlooking the lake. I felt as though I began to participate in the stillness of the place. Two crows appeared - and one jumped into a small bush quite close to me, deliberately breaking off a stick in its beak. They were gathering nesting material - but I'd never before seen one 'harvest' a stick from a bush. Later, a dark little wallaby went past - I don't think he even knew I was there.

Allowed to be and allowing to be. 'There is no need of words', says Miriam-Rose. 'A big part of dadirri is listening'.


Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Margaret River

Last week I was in Margaret River in Western Australia, giving some talks at the Perth Anglican diocese clergy school. I arrived before the conference started and so was able to have a 'Wednesday Retreat' on Monday morning, before we got underway.

It seemed important to connect to the place we were and introduce myself to it. So I walked through the little town - full of cafes and providore type shops - and headed for the river itself.

There was a 'rain garden' just before the river - trees, bushland and water grasses, designed to clean the polluted run-off from the road before it entered the river itself. Some of the shapes were stunning.

And then I came to the river itself.

My Mum's side of the family is from WA - but from the wheat-belt. The south-west of WA is renowned for its beautiful tall forests, and even in the short walk off the highway I came across some extraordinary Marri trees with stunning bark.

It was a greyish morning, but the reflections of the forest in the water were amazing.

And this too, is a reflection!

The question of 'country' is a fascinating thing. The more I become aware of the significance of this notion in Aboriginal culture, the more I wonder about my own sense of 'country'. And I realised that, although it is so beautiful, this Margaret River country does not feel like home to me - the forest and water feel a little dark and enclosing. I am more at home on the high plains and open fields.

But it was a privilege to visit the country of the Wadandi people and to enjoy its beauty and mystery.


Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Lady Poverty

This week, I've been much struck by this passage from Christian Wiman's, My Bright Abyss.

'The endless, useless urge to look on life comprehensively, to take a bird's-eye view of ourselves and judge the dimensions of what we have or have not done: this is life as landscape, or life as resume. But life is incremental, and though a worthwhile life is a gathering together of all that one is, good and bad, successful and not, the paradox is that we can never really see this one thing that all of our increments (and decrements, I suppose) add up to. "Early we receive a call", writes Czeslaw Milosz, "yet it remains incomprehensible,/ and only late do we discover how obedient we were"'.

What resonates for me particularly is that 'endless, useless urge to look on life comprehensively'. I am so often seeking to know what it all means, or will mean in the end. And yet I know that the deeper knowing of the whole comes not from this 'bird's-eye', observer's view, but through participation. And truly to participate, to be present beyond self-consciousness, demands the surrender of that 'observation point'.

St Francis speaks, I am told, of embracing 'lady poverty' - embracing the void of unknowing, the loss of the 'I' who sees, becoming 'poor' in this radical way of self-dispossession. In the same way, John Main speaks of saying your mantra and being content to say your mantra - so becoming the eye that sees but does not see itself.

Yesterday in spiritual direction, and this morning on retreat, I practised this embrace - feeling still my resistance, and yet also drawn to this deeper embrace of no-thingness.

The trees are yielding themselves in the loss of their leaves - unable to do anything but enact trust that life breaks through on the other side of death, of winter. Embracing Lady Poverty ... on a winter's morning.