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Showing posts from December, 2018

There and Back

  What with one thing and another I've driven this road, between Dunedin and Rolleston, 5 times in the last fortnight. It's becoming quite familiar. Travelling in the early morning I pass the wetlands at Waitati. just after Blueskin Bay. The Moeraki boulders are always worth a stop... is Oamaru in the hour after sunrise.


The Book of Job says we are born to trouble as the sparks fly upwards. We are uncertain, constantly changing creatures in a continual state of being made. We live in an uncertain, constantly changing universe in a continual state of being made. No wonder we are anxious. No wonder that, in our ignorance, we seek to place our anxieties on others and seek to vanquish it by vanquishing them. Jesus came into Galilee proclaiming the Good News; the God Word; the God Spel; the Gospel: think differently because it is God's Kingdom which lies about you on every side, as far away as your own hand. Be at peace and the world will be at peace. Look. The sign of it is only a day away. Joy to the world and peace on earth to all people of good will. Photo: The two things to avoid in trying to photograph the  Moeraki boulders are 1) cliches - these things are photographed a thousand times a day, and usually in the same ways, and 2) tourists - they have a penchant for clambering over them i


A few weeks ago, I said that the marks of a spiritual practice are Intention, Consent and Repetition. The definition runs both ways. The things that you consent to, intend and repeat are spiritual practices. Our habits and repetitive vices shape our souls as surely as do our holy readings and prayers. It's a salutary experience to sit for a while in quiet and think about those things you do on a regular basis; ie those things you repeat. List them - mentally if you are not comfortable with someone stumbling across your list. Ask what is my intention when performing this action? What am I giving consent to in the performance of this action? And the answers to these two will give a good idea of how you are shaping your soul.


It's been a wet day in Dunedin and I took my camera out into the greyness, because I didn't know what the harbour might look like. I know this place, but I never know what I might expect to see.  I stood in the place where I have have taken a hundred versions of the same shot and found something different. Change is constant. But with every shift in the way the light falls on land and water I learn something new about the things that are constant. Christmas is only a few days away, and it will be different from the one we were all expecting. The light will fall, in ways that surprise us, and reveal some unexpected new shade of the verities which lie, only thinly veiled, behind the tinsel and the eating and the coloured paper: incarnation and grace.


It's possible to walk any of the many routes of the Camino Santiago by following a simple sign.  Siempre sigue las flechas amarillas - always follow the yellow arrows. They're there wherever and whenever you need them: painted unobtrusively on the back of a street sign or on a rock or gutter; emblazoned on the side of a building; handwritten by a member of the local Camino Committee, or expensively produced by the provincial junta. By following the yellow arrows it's possible to walk the breadth (and, indeed, the length) of Spain without GPS or map or guidebook.  Over the course of the Camino they came to symbolise for me, the presence of the Holy Spirit: usually unseen unless you pause and take the time to look; always there when you need them most; a faithful guide in unexpected places leading inexorably to the holy destination. They are like the myriad little promptings and leadings and coincidences and "chance" encounters, which anyone on a Christian pat


In the first church I attended as a self identifying Christian much store was placed on "being on fire for the Lord" by which was meant not so much the usual medieval punishment for heretics,  as a state of constant glittery eyed enthusiasm for converting people. Which of course, I tried to effect, especially if anybody from the church was watching. It never did much good, neither for me nor for anyone else. What I had not noticed, of course that the firewood never sets itself on fire. It waits for someone else to do that. And it generally waits a long time.  I've cut a lot of the stuff lately. A gum tree was felled in the reserve beside our place and I've been processing it. The tree grew for about 40 years, and then waited a year after falling for me to chop it up, and it will wait another year or two before it gets its moment of glory in our wood burner. Then it will have about half an hour of being on fire for Kelvin. I think the proportions are about right.


I've seen this picture in the Tate a few times, and love the careful detail, especially in the indignant, resisting Peter. When Ford Madox Brown painted it in the 1850s Christ was clad, as he was in the Gospel story, in only a towel. The public were outraged and the picture didn't sell. Apparently the shock of Jesus' humanity far outweighed the far more significant shock of us being asked to surrender our dearly held ideas of how things should be decently done. As it was at the last supper, so it was in the 1850s. And now. And when you serve And when you serve, Start with the feet And when you serve, Get down low With a towel and a water bowl And when you serve, Find your honour not over But under Not higher But lower Not first But last. So when you serve, Don't wait your turn But push your way Right to the back. Where you'll find Nothing to prove Nothing to hide And nothing to loose But your pride. Yes, you heard, When you serve


I pause by the lavender and watch the bees frantically adding to their hoard of nectar. Somewhere, deep in the past they and I shared an ancestor. Examining the 2 meters of DNA coiled tightly into every one of my body cells would tell me approximately when that was, and what it is that I still share with them. Since Darwin began to popularize this knowledge, we humans have desperately sought ways of denying our origins. Whether by fundamentalist assertions, or theories of intelligent design, or Catholic claims to the uniqueness of souls, or Liberal claims for the social construction of our fundamental instincts,  we have tried to preserve the great divide between us and the rest of the universe. These attempts lead us nowhere except away from ourselves. I watch my little cousins. They work to patterns I could never guess at. I take out my phone and photograph one of them, for reasons she could never guess at. Then we return, all of us, to our business in our separate corners of


Ted is 11 months old and in the last week he has learned to walk. I go out into the garden with him, holding sometimes two hands, sometimes one and sometimes none. We converse animatedly all the while. He's pretty proud of his new skills and intrigued by all the new things his elevated vantage point reveals. He has his preferred places to visit and his preferred routes to get there. He doesn't yet know any words, with the debatable exception of "cat", but our conversation is full and rich and quite precise. We use tone, timbre, rhythm and pitch. In other words we sing. All of us sang before we talked. As babies letting our parents know our wants and fears. As a species regulating a complex society millennia before we had any words. This is why tone of voice is far more meaningful to us than the words we use. Music is our first, our most basic, our deepest and most profound language. But the richest part of the conversation isn't the times we sing alone. Whe


This is one of my very favourite hymns and one of the best bits of Advent, for me, is having the opportunity to sing it. In another life, long, long ago when I was Vicar of a parish with lots of people in it who didn't have a particularly strong feeling for liturgical tradition, a woman complained about its inclusion in a December service. She noted that while it urged us to rejoice, neither the tune nor the lyrics were very happy. Which is a good point. Or rather , it would be a good point if joy and happiness were the same thing. Which they are not. Happiness is the wonderful feeling I have that everything's going my way. Our happiness usually depends as much on what we've just eaten or what we've just heard as anything else, and we dont have a lot of control over whether we're happy or not. The Bible tells us to rejoice in the Lord and we knock ourselves out trying to make ourselves feel happy, in a pious, hand clappy sort of way, singing bouncy praise songs


Noah and his Ama are where you’d expect to find them: in the garden. He kneels in the dirt and plants a variety of brassicas, not because we need any extra, but because she knows the approximate intervals of his future visits and out of all the other possibilities, the great drab plants will show the most impressive progress each time. They talk all the while and he is schooled in photosynthesis, pollination, likely pests, compost, soil structure and the virtues of earthworms and bees. He’s learning what it means to wait months for the rewards of his labours. He’s assimilating the feel of warm soil and its smell. He’s learning what it is like to have someone in his life who loves him so much she will open up her very favourite thing, so that it can include him. He’s learning to prepare: that you get out what you put in, but if you do it carefully and wisely there is a pretty attractive interest rate. He is, himself, being prepared, of course. He will be a better and wiser adult f


You prune in summer to (temporarily) restrict growth. You prune in winter to promote growth. The plant is a complex system, much of which is hidden beneath the ground. During winter it rests, preparing to push nutrients and water into the branches to make new leaves in the spring. If branches are removed all of those assets will seek new channels of expression. Growth will break out with renewed vigour and in the most surprising places. As with plants, so with souls. Ruthless removal of inconvenient aspects of our lives without any understanding of what drives them isn't likely to achieve the improvement we hope for. One ounce of understanding will be a lot more productive for us than a ton of repression. Photo: Nikon D7100, Micro Nikkor 105mm F2.8


I like the Eastern image of the lotus. The blossom begins in the mud, and grows up, towards the light before bursting into its glory as a flower. This is a metaphor for the spiritual life: for the journey of each soul towards enlightenment (ie, if you are a Christian, towards that blessedness which God knows you can and intends that you will attain). It is also the pattern of the many small steps we all make towards the greater goal. The spiritual life is hard. As someone once said, the living water is  like any other kind of water in that it flows by way of the valleys, not the mountaintops. We struggle and endure and then learn the lesson we are guided to, but our trials are usually punctuated by periods where everything goes well, where we rest for a bit before beginning another struggle. When we realise that the obstacles and hardships of life are our greatest teachers, there is a tendency to think of the intervening plateaus of rest and consolidation as pleasant, but somehow


 The little rough roads are the road less traveled for very good reason. They tend not to go anywhere. Many of them, or is that most of them, are dead ends, leading nowhere in particular. Or, perhaps more accurately, to a small and limited destination. Those that do go somewhere take you, inevitably, back to a well worn highway, albeit by a longer and more tortuous route than everyone else has chosen. There are some interesting sights to be seen. There are some adventurous paths to be explored, but lets face it, the best and easiest routes were figured out by someone else ages ago. Jesus said that the way is narrow and few there are that find it. We can use that verse to rationalise our own idiosyncrasy and perversity. Or we can remember that since he said it people have walked the narrow path for 2,000 years and have left us many excellent way-marks.  


It's our wedding anniversary today. We've been married for  42 years, or about 2/3 of our lives. A marriage isn't an entity, but a process. Like everything else in the Universe, and like the Universe itself, we are, all of us, in a constant state of flux and change and it is an extraordinary gift to be able to make most of those changes in company. John's Gospel begins, In the beginning was the Word. Which means, I think, that this vast process of growth and transformation - life, marriage, Being - was spoken into existence; which is a way of saying it has purpose and meaning.The journey towards that meaning is A long pilgrimage in the same direction , to steal Eugene Peterson's phrase. For Clemency and me. For all of us. Photos: I took the top photograph in our flat in Abraham place in Auckland in 1977. I would have used a Canon FTb, a 50mm lens on Ilford FP4, developed the film and printed it in a darkroom I had set up in my study at St. John's Coll


In the midst of life we are in death. None of us lives forever. All relationships will one day end with one party or the other departing; so to love is to be assured of the certainty of loss. To live is to be guaranteed a measure of pain as well as of joy. This is disastrous for us only to the extent that we subscribe to the falsehood that the purpose of life is to be happy. The purpose of life is life. Perhaps after death we will rest in felicity, who knows? but that is certainly not the point of the life we have been given here and now. Our task here is to live; to be formed; to be made and remade. And there is our hope. If we are being formed, it must mean that something unimaginably greater lies ahead: something in which all the struggle of our formation will find its point and its meaning. Three things last forever, said the apostle Paul. Faith, hope and love. Here is the hint of our life's end. Photo:Nikon D300; Nikkor 55-200 @75mm; 1/320, f9, iso200. This is the gra

Garden, Early December

It rained last night. The roses sustained a bit of damage, but they're tough little blighters. They still managed to put a brave face on things for us when we took our coffee and went out to pay our respects. There is an impossibly gaudy lily at the bottom of the garden, near the fence. Apart from trimming off some excess, these are unretouched. They do look like this. I'm not even sure what these things are called. They grow in the shady places and I'm told, on very good authority that they're special. It's an acquired taste, obviously, but I think I may be starting to grasp their art deco appeal. The flowers are nothing without the green bits. These little guys keep the gaudy bits alive. Keep you and me alive, actually. And when I look closely, each one is a masterpiece of beauty and complexity and elegance.


We set our order, build our impressive structures, impose our wills. And everywhere life and beauty find a way of sneaking in. And it is the small, fragile beauty of flowers that lasts. They will be here, millennia after our carefully wrought schemes have faded from all memory. The wild things are the signs of what is truly powerful, truly worth our attention. Photo: Canon 300D; Canon 18-55 @45mm; 1/400, f5.6, iso100. Taken on the top of Mt. Cargill after a walk up from North Road.


It's a hard thing to be present. Our scattered minds run off with us and we are constantly living in the past or the future - remembering what has happened a year or a day or a minute ago, or planning our next minute or day or year. Consider the birds of the air, said Jesus, pointing to their untroubled little lives. They are not relaxed, but are energetically present: alert and alive. Be here. Be now. That's where God is. That's the only place where God is. Photo Nikon D7100; Tamron 150-600 @ 400mm; 1/80, f8, iso400. I set my big lens on a tripod and stand in the corner of the deck, watching the waxeyes come and go from our bird feeder. They don't mind me. They've seen me often enough to figure out that I'm safe .


We have quite well delineated gardening duties. Mine are those which involve brute force and carrying, for the most part, but there is one which requires delicacy. I prune things, particularly roses. I know all about what tools to use and what sort of cuts to make, but the real skill of it is in imagining what the plant could look like if only. And then it's not about the cutting, but the looking: finding those small pink spots; those places where growth is begging for the opportunity to happen. They are sometimes salaciously obvious, but more usually are hidden in the crook of leaves or at the joints of plants, known sometimes more by touch than sight. They are waiting for the removal of the dying branches and the spindly and the ones which have already done what they needed to. Plantwork is a meditative practice,  not unlike soul work Oh there you are. OK, I'll give you the chance. Lets see what you can do.


Jesus said, I am the Light of the World. Light is apparent only by what it encounters. It is refracted by what it passes through, or reflected by what it touches and then it is interpreted when it finds an eye. Physical light and spiritual light - exactly the same. Photo: Canon EOS 300 D; Canon 70-200 F4 @70mm; 1/500 f10. I took this picture years ago. I looked out my bedroom window and saw the rising sun through the fog in the trees of Columba College. I hastily dressed, ran outside and took 25 shots, before it dawned on me that a middle aged man, walking half dressed through a girls' boarding school at 7.00 in the morning, with a camera, might not be a very good look. Sometimes it's very important to imagine how the light might be falling on other eyes. 


When your eyes are tired the world is tired also. When your vision has gone, no part of the world can find you. Time to go into the dark where the night has eyes to recognize its own. There you can be sure you are not beyond love. The dark will be your home tonight. The night will give you a horizon further than you can see. You must learn one thing. The world was made to be free in. Give up all the other worlds except the one to which you belong. Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet confinement of your aloneness to learn anything or anyone that does not bring you alive Is too small for you - “Sweet Darkness” by David Whyte


When I’m in my favourite place on the planet I like to get up about sunrise and walk the length of the beach. When I start it is dark, and when I reach the end and turn for home the clear warm light of the golden hour is illuminating the sea and the coarse yellow sand. And there are my footprints, the markers of this morning’s pilgrimage laid out for all to see them, at least, ‘til the tide comes in a bit. They tell a story of my own attentativeness. Why, out of the thousand possible routes did I choose this one? Why did I stop there? Why not here? What a person pays attention to tells you a lot about them. That’s as true of me as it is of everybody else.


This photo of our grand daughter Ada was taken a year or so ago when she was 2. Clemency and I were making the 5 hour journey from Dunedin to Rolleston and she had been told that Ama and Papa were coming today . So, as soon as she got up she rushed to the living room, stood on the arm of the sofa and looked out past the blind, down the driveway to the road along which we were due to appear. Bridget took the photo and emailed it to us, still at home in Dunedin. Deep calls to deep. Her longing for us was exceeded only by our longing for her, and her watching called us to our priorities. We sped through our preparation and made for Rolleston as fast as legally possible. She had a five hour Advent that day, looking forward to embrace and communion. And ours is now only 39 days long. Photo: Iphone.


This Advent I'm going to be following the Adventword process, of reflecting on a different prayer word for each day of Advent, and here, on Twitter and on Facebook, contributing to a growing, communal Advent calendar of thoughts and images as Advent develops. The word for today is Journey , which, of course, immediately makes me think of the Camino. Of all the many hundreds of pictures I took on the Camino Santiago, this is my favourite. Clemency is ahead of me, walking steadily, and I have paused for a few seconds to unpack my camera and dash off this quick shot before she gets too far ahead. I'm pleased it worked out so well. There's a lot of obvious iconography here: moving from dark to light, the ancient architecture, all that stuff, but really that's all an illusion. This is actually a motorway underpass. But that has it's own iconography, when you think about it. Overhead, a thousand cars are thundering past, each intent on some journey or other,


It was 39 years ago on Thursday that I was ordained deacon. I don't have any photos of the ordination - people didn't wander round with cell phones back then, nor take their box brownies to significant events, especially in somewhere as intimidating as Christchurch Cathedral, so I found this shot, taken by Clemency, obviously, at about the same time. I'm holding our son Nick, whose birth happened a little later, and was an event even more life changing than the ordination. Some events make for significant memories - starting school. Graduating from university. First time asking a girl out. First kiss. First job. The day Princess Diana died. The day President Kennedy died. Other events change your very being. Baptism. Marriage. Parenthood. Ordination. I remember two or three days after my ordination, walking through Cathedral Square in my brand new black shirt, black trousers, black shoes and sparkly white collar. I walked past a group of gang members in their patches a