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.

Saturday, 1 September 2018

On Knowledge


Do we know more and more about less and less? St. Paul knew less and less about more and more; he liked it that way. Disaster equation: all knowledge plus all wisdom minus all love equals tragedy. We live in tragic times.
            I recall Brautigan’s poem on ‘cybernetic ecology’ All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace. They’re here, not as foreseen. They know more and more and especially ever more about us. They know the truth and the false and dish out either impartially.
            We need real mothers, not machine mothers. Absent real mothers, we have the Mother of God, the Lady of Grace. To have real mothers, we need real lovers, not machine lovers. I recall Aquinas who knew everything in the 13th century. After a vision at the end of his life, he wrote nothing more: ‘After what has been revealed to me, all I have written seems to me as straw’. Yet Jesus also spoke to Thomas, saying “You have written well of me.’ This is the straw spun into gold by the lady in the tower who escaped by climbing down a rope made of her own golden hair. Seeing, sensing, hearing, knowing.

Friday, 31 August 2018

On Voting


On Voting
St. Paul identified himself, saying “I am … a citizen of no mean city” being Tarsus, of Cilicia (Asia Minor), now in modern Turkey. To be a citizen was, and still is, an honour, while being a stateless person is a complication at best: perhaps more likely a troubled status.
            Some find our Parliament too much like a circus, with acrobats doing flip-flops and hanging by their toes: confronted with politicians too hard to respect, they’re tempted not to vote. If both sides of politics (meaning the affairs of the city — polis in Greek — or matters for the whole body of citizens) lack creditable candidates, what to do?
            Idealists shudder at the thought of the essentially democratic process of compromise, confronted with uncompromising factions, cabals and ideologues. We long for benevolent, charismatic, successful politicians and discover left- and right-wing weaknesses. We are, however, citizens.
            We are citizens of no mean country. We must use thoughts and hearts to find those closest to our principles, even when choosing from the charmless, ignorant, divisive: we have an obligation to the affairs of the citizen body, matters before the nation. There is never perfection. But we can do the honourable thing, and vote.