Monday, 1 April 2019

On Denial


Conspiracy theories, claims events never happened (ignoring verified witnesses, records, reports), fury at survivors and relations showing wounds and burying their dead: What is this? Why insist the Port Arthur massacre didn’t occur or school shootings weren’t real? What lies behind denial?
Fear ultimately drives refusal to admit that bad things happen. If evil can come to others it can come to me. Fear is profitable to some, (follow the money, or the lust for power), but deeply harmful to the general good. Such fear is accompanied by the arrogant belief that we can save ourselves, without reference to the rest of the world.
The theological virtues can help: Faith, Hope, and Love. Faith implies trust, and denial of truth shatters trust. Jesus never promised safety, but comfort to those who mourn. Hope is given to a fallen world, known subject to natural disasters, plagues, epidemics, brutal dictators, corrupt governments and demonic madness. Hope is what we give, when the princes of this world dominate, but we serve. Who experiences fearless love? We love in spite of loss and fear of loss.
Read your Bible. The first thing an angel will say to you is: Fear not.

Friday, 1 March 2019

On Memory


To the ancients, memory is an active process. We remember those where we have an obligation; we hold in memory those we are bound to protect. For us, memory is passive: visited by memories, moved by them or suffering from them.
In the book of his memory, Dante tells of love at first sight, loss, grief and salvation: La Vita Nuova. He says his miraculous Beatrice ‘was a Christian of the thirteenth century.’ My muse Rachel was a Christian of the twentieth century; she did not live to see the twenty-first. Dante wrote for other Christians of the thirteenth century, and for us, of the twenty-first century, and beyond.
Look at objects you’ve saved, from bicycles to pictures, asking, Is this a happy memory? If a bad memory, why keep it? Do we keep our memories as a warning? Not to repeat remorse? Memento Mori is a remembrance or calling to mind of death, as a sign.
‘ Recordare, Jesu pie:  Remember, blessed Jesu, that I am the cause of your journey, do not abandon me.’ Dante presented his beloved in words written beyond all others.  The marvelous Beatrice lives with Rachel in memory, in the new life.

Friday, 1 February 2019

On Contemplation


Contemplation sounds like looking intently at one thing, although we know that everything is constantly in motion. It encourages attentiveness, deliberation, reflection. Study surveys its subject with care. Certain ideas recur in cycles, fashionable to be studied again; study means you still have something to learn. People who are seriously into the spiritual life don’t mind drifting. Slow thought.
Dominican spirituality is attractive to those who enjoy the process of trying to figure things out. You bring something to attention, clean up its act, and present it, with hopes for its veracity, to others. Confirm truth; omit prejudice. Contemplare et contemplata aliis tradere. We can also study our fellows: the rude and the resentful, the petty and the pugnacious, the unrelenting and the unremorseful: so human. They may also study us. Each one a book.
The meaning of study? When a beautiful girl, who knew four languages, is randomly murdered by a stranger at a tram stop, where has her learning gone? Languages should be shared. The Latin source of ‘study,’studium, includes a meaning of attachment, devotion, goodwill towards a person or purpose. Devotion has a saving grace. Study to become what you are. Thus your merit will be made.

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

On Anniversaries


One cannot live in memories: that is, in the past. Why do anniversaries take hold so strongly in ten-year clumps? Is it because I have ten fingers and ten toes that I count to the end of a cycle, which begins again?
What shall be saved? There are events that become the principal occasion in many lives. These lie not lightly, but heavily sleeping or disturbing sleep through many years. It feels like losing track of decades, though decades, like rosaries, are told.
We can’t live with the dead, our faults irretrievable, our mistakes inexorable, unless we do our best to embody their virtues. Rachel’s great virtue was beauty. Aquinas here gives a trinity: wholeness (the Buddhist ‘isness’ a thing the essence of itself), proportion (exquisitely balanced that all elements are pleasing both to reason and the senses) and clarity (which has the power to illuminate the meaning of itself). The meaning of beauty is expression of divine truth.
There was a time before Rachel. Now there is a time after Rachel. Twenty years since, like Dante’s Beatrice, she departed from this world. To honour Rachel, I seek to reflect beauty wherever I encounter it.

Sunday, 2 December 2018

On Blessing


When I was young, I thought everything around me already existed, whether built order or social realm. But often it was built from nothing by another generation, even the people around me. Much exists as a blessing, by favour, or at least a decision, by will.
Praise, bless, preach, say the Dominicans.  And this is intimately associated with veritas, the truth. Praise results from gratitude; blessing shares benefits; preaching tells the truth: a trinity. Much thanks to give, much change to require. Preaching doesn’t mean I’m telling you I know it all; you can preach by listening alone. You don’t need a great many words to speak truth.
Each of us is a blessing though we may not know it. It can take a lifetime to find you have something that comes into play by itself, that others notice while you remain unaware. Blessing doesn’t need force, or even direction. You are uniquely gifted with an ability which may be quirky and you may never know what it is. You might not even need to find out.
Blessing makes holy, both giving and receiving. The bread is blessed before it is broken; truth is blessed before it is spoken.

Friday, 9 November 2018

On the Day and the Hour


Terrorism has come to our city. Not to our country: we’ve had the Bali bombings, the Sydney cafĂ© siege, and yesterday we confronted its presence here. It’s not so unusual. East, West, North and South people have left home in the morning expecting to return at night, not prepared for suddenly ending their days, accounting for their time on earth. Eulogies will follow. Never so much are the living praised as the dead. Yet they were just as praiseworthy then.
Attackers of random strangers also often die, even in their deeds. Their account may be somewhat different, depending on who makes it. But terrorism, for all the fear it is meant to inspire, isn’t the only way to unexpectedly depart. Jealousy costs many lives, family conflict more; accidents arrive at work, on roads, in the air. The Litany prays against ‘dying suddenly and unprepared’ as if there were some way to become prepared.
The elder Church insisted on frequent confession. Absolution puts the mind at rest. But change, in this house of fire, is constant, from purification and readiness to unstable human truth. How do you want to be remembered? How loving, how loved? How shall we live in farewell?

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

On Builders


Does anybody else know any unreliable feckless builders? How did the trade get such a bad name? You can build all sorts of things, given time. You can build kitchens, extensions, and decks onto houses. You can build walls, ladders to scale walls, or ladders for angels to descend and ascend from heaven to earth, earth to heaven. We hope the plans for these are correct.
The Romans built roads you can walk on today. We build machines of surprising expressiveness, hotels on wetlands, prison camps for exiles and wounded refugees. We’re exhorted to build ourselves into cathedrals of living stones, a gruesome image in these days of climate change and accelerated devolution. What would you build with a living stone? Where are the jaws, the paws?
When the stone the builders rejected was made the head of the corner, it gave us England’s greatest Queen. What did the builders know, after all? The architect would appear to have exerted authority here. We build towers of words upon laws and scriptures: the architect is always right. We can build houses of cards and cities of gold and can follow the money where it flows, more active than stone.