Grounded at Twilight

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Listening Lisa

Here is a guest post by Lisa J Cole.

It was written in response to the conversation last week between me, Bruno Lettieri and Barry Garner, at the Twilight School at Rupertswood in Sunbury.

Welcome Lisa!

 

 

Tell me, what is it you plan to do                                                                                             with your one wild and precious life?

That sentence is from Mary Oliver’s poem titled The Summer Day. Mary is an American poet, and right at the very end of her poem we are left to answer this question. The beginning of the poem, where first she describes a grasshopper cleaning its face with its feet and having enormous and complicated eyes, takes us on a journey, and then we are left with a question to ponder, grapple with, conjure or create with.

For many of us, it’s a tough question to answer at the best of times. But it didn’t seem that way the other night for the Pilgrim and the Verandah Sitter at the first Open House event at Rupertswood Mansion for 2013.

Ailsa Piper, writer, director, actor and graduate pilgrim shared with her captive audience that to live this ONE life is a good place to start. There is no other, just this ONE. Barry Garner, local Sunbury writer and author of Haloes in the Windscreen, shared that he sits on his verandah and reflects where he’s been and where he’s going next with the PRECIOUS people who he loves and respects around him.

These accomplished authors read from their books, laughed together and relaxed over a microphone last Wednesday night but most importantly publicly declared their personal journeys of walking. Ailsa’s pilgrim-style walking took her 1200km across Spain, alone and carrying with her a bunch of other people’s sins. Barry’s life centres in and around his suburb of Sunbury and he retold stories to the audience how he used to walk around the block with his daughter, Kylie, because she wanted to get fit. He discovered a deep connection with his daughter again. Is the importance on the ONE or the WILD or the PRECIOUS? Maybe it’s all of them.

We discovered, as we listened into this conversation that Ailsa’s greatest addiction is poetry, followed closely by walking and the intrigue and unique beauty and slowness of snails. She has a small snail engraved permanently into her skin to remind her to slow down in life.

Barry declared that he’s spent over 55 years believing he’s not good enough, but once he found writing he could express himself to the world and published a piece about his daughter Kylie leaving home in The Age. He had a rough ride last year through the festive season, but a brisk visit to Philip Island with a loyal friend filled his lungs with hope and belief that no medicine could. The room filled with enormous gratitude for two people who simply were brave enough to open up their lives and hearts to us.

The cooler Melbourne weather brought relief and fresh thoughts. As I sat and listened, my gaze fixed out the bay window on the quick, darting black birds moving efficiently and effortlessly from branch to branch. I wonder if they ponder taking on the snail’s slow life. I hear words and then applause. The bay window of the dining room sparkles; clear as if the glass was an illusion.

And in a moment it’s there – life is not a dress rehearsal. Not for a snail, or a grasshopper, or the darting black birds outside or for Ailsa Piper or Barry Garner or for any one of us sitting in that room. We have enormous lives full of potential and possibility, often complicated and too busy. The secrets to answer our question are locked up in the den and they need to be set free, especially the secrets about the ONE WILD and PRECIOUS life we all wish to live. These thoughts need to breathe and grow and walk across countries or around suburban blocks. Set them free.

How about we all start with this ONE moment in our lives and see what happens next.

 

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Pilgrim, Verandah Sitter and Bello Bruno

Gracias, Lisa. It was such pleasure to sit in those remarkable surrounds and to share the stage with two such thoughtful gentlemen. Gentle men who attend to the world about them, and to their place in it. That is what dignifies Mary Oliver for me – the way she pays attention, and in doing so, makes me open my eyes, ears and heart to wonder. Natural wonder, in particular. Her grasshopper is so particular and real for her.

Rather like my snail.

Yes, it was an evening of paying attention and shared humanity. The audience at Rupertswood was welcoming, the stories they shared were inspiring, and the birds sure did sing. My sister Amanda came along with me to take photos of the evening, and life really did feel precious…

Gracias Lisa. Gracias Bruno and Barry.

And as always, Gracias Mary Oliver.

IMG_2883A postscript…of course!

Do take a moment to look at the comments on this post. Very grateful to Darren and Jim for two beauties. A camino and some snail-talk!

 

Carrying the Pain of Others: Reviving An Ancient Journey

Today we have a guest post. The second ever.

I hope there will be more, but for now, I’m honoured to offer you this moving and provocative reflection on the book. I am particularly grateful to Tony Doherty for facing head-on the horrors of sexual abuse, and how that plays out for him as a pastor in the Catholic church.

When I was walking, I often passed shepherds with their flocks.

Hola Senor Pastor, I would call. Hello Mister Shepherd.

I think Tony’s “flock” are fortunate to have someone so prepared to wrestle with the realities of trying to live with honesty and compassion – and disgrace – inside the structure of the Church. I feel very lucky to have received his words in response to the book.

 

To what extent are we willing to carry the pain of others? In a Church which claims to be a supporting community of believers, how do we give hope, in some genuine fashion, to someone whose life is fast unravelling, asks Tony Doherty*

 

At first blush, the concept seemed frankly medieval. An idea left behind centuries ago. Not just pre-Vatican II but pre-Lutheran. Quaint theology but tinged with medieval superstition, with more than a whiff of magic and money.

The idea – a pilgrim setting out to walk the famous Camino de Santiago carrying on her back an unusual cargo – a load of other people’s sins (for a small monetary consideration). This followed the best traditions of medieval believers who paid others to carry their sins to such sacred sites as Santiago, and so buy forgiveness. Not surrogate parenting, but surrogate reconciliation.

An Australian writer, director and actor, Ailsa Piper took on a 1,300 kilometre pilgrimage walking continually for about 45 days through storms and cold, across the rough and the smooth (this woman is no slouch) to the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostella.

Before leaving home, Ailsa published the quirky invitation: “I will walk off your sins. Pilgrim seeks sinners for mutually beneficial arrangement. Proven track record. Tireless. Reliable. Seven deadlies a speciality”.

In our so cool and sophisticated, post-modern culture could such an arcane invitation work? “…yes, people gave me their sins. From the first day, there were confessions, even some from strangers who’d heard of the quest.”

Hang about! Confession of ‘sin’ has been replaced has it not by more contemporary and non-judgemental counselling procedures – or have I been out having lunch somewhere?

But confessions they were – genuine admissions of sin from half-believers, once-upon-a-time believers, even acknowledged atheists. Always heartfelt, often unnervingly disclosive. “I have slept with my best friend’s husband. Not once but four times.” The ‘penitents’ left the impression they were just aching to deal with previously undealt with material.

Taking the project quite seriously, the writer-pilgrim would read the load of sins she was carrying religiously each morning, like some monastic chapter of faults. Her own struggles and sins became part of the daily examination. The honesty and integrity of the author’s description of this process is expressed with uncommon sensitivity and indeed sacredness. At some quite deep level it made totally good sense.

The book, Sinning Across Spain (Victory Books, Melbourne, 2012), tells the story in graceful and stylish voice which at times becomes quite lyrical.

The ‘Camino’ is in the news these days, thanks to Emilio Estevez’s splendid film The Way, the story of a father who, faced with the death of his son killed while attempting the pilgrimage, decides to do the walk carrying his box of ashes to Santiago and eventually the sea. The Piper story and the Estevez film contain a fascinating common thread – carrying a heavy load on the journey: the ashes of a son’s life and the wounds of other people’s lives.

Unburdening oneself of some personal load is an ancient practice on the Camino. At the highest point of the path to Santiago, on top of one of the most challenging hills, there stands a large iron cross. For centuries pilgrims have carried stones, more frequently not much more than we would call ‘gibbers’, often wrapped in paper on which is written a prayer or perhaps a promise. The stones would represent some guilty memory, some emotional wound, perhaps unhealed grief. It might represent a relationship sorely in need of repair or a renewed commitment to the future.

More enthusiastic pilgrims will bring several stones representing the struggles of those left behind at home. Some might choose instead of a stone a symbolic item which better represents what they want to leave behind. The genesis of the Piper invitation, to carry somebody else’s load of sin, probably finds its inspiration in this ancient practice.

Does it make sense? You’d better ask a weary pilgrim struggling up the hill with their heavy swag.

If I may intrude a personal story. Several years ago while walking the Camino I was at the ‘iron cross’ and there on top of the centuries-high pile of stones were two pink baby’s shoes tied together by their laces. I couldn’t get them out of my mind. What did their presence mean? No explanatory note. A pile of symbolic items as untidy as a garage sale. Left there undoubtedly as silent witness of some family tragedy. Hemingway was once famously challenged to write a short story in six words. His story: “For Sale. Baby shoes. Never used.”

So here’s the twist. To what extent are we willing to carry the pain of others? In a Church which claims to be a supporting community of believers, how do we give hope, in some genuine fashion, to someone whose life is fast unravelling?

For Catholics, facing with horror the shocking events of child abuse and sexual manipulation, how do we stop from drowning ourselves? One familiar response is denial. “It can’t be happening.” “Just a few rotten apples.” Another response is angrily scapegoating whatever easy target comes to mind, or the rather shamefully pulling the blankets over our heads and pretending it will go away.

Ailsa Piper’s strategy might hold a valuable clue. Are we strong enough to carry the pain of others – say, the victims of this terrible abuse? Or an even more unspeakable possibility – to carry a little of the disgrace of those seen as responsible.

Sinning across Spain asks the question: how really connected are we? It is a powerful and tantalising question.

 

* Monsignor Tony Doherty, a priest of the Sydney Archdiocese, is pastor of two Sydney parishes, Dover Heights and Rose Bay. His lifetime search is to find an appropriate language of faith for contemporary adults. He also admits to being a little addicted to walking pilgrimages.

 

If you would like to see the article in the context for which Tony wrote it, you can go to this link, which is on the website of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan.

http://www.goodsams.org.au/good-oil/carrying-the-pain-of-others-reviving-an-ancient-journey/

Muchas gracias, Tony. Muchas.

Missive from Mexico City

Hola!

SINNING ACROSS SPAIN is responsible for its first blister!

Today I received this story from Paul, who bought a copy of the book at the airport before leaving Australia on business. He read it on the plane to America, and it lurked around in his thoughts until he got to Mexico, where it decided to have its way with him! Below, with his permission, is his walking story…

As luck would have it, I find myself in Mexico City for work. So yesterday being Sunday I took the opportunity to explore. Wanting to walk out the past week of flying and sitting in conference rooms, and it being a truly gorgeous sunny-cool day, I decide to head out on foot.

Mexico City is not rural Spain. Nevertheless, finding myself treading Spanish-speaking streets put me in mind of your book.

Hmm, maybe I should have paid more attention to the bit about good shoes. I was in a pair of Campers, virtually no soles and no support.

I am staying just south of Colonia Condesa and headed down to the Zocalo in the historic centre. That was about a 10 km stroll. I must have covered another 4-5 in the downtown area, then walked back to Condesa, which was the art deco rich home of movie stars and celebrities until the 1985 earthquake, when it was largely abandoned. In the nineties, the boho art crowd ‘rediscovered’ it and for a decade it was über cool. As with all these kind of neighbourhoods (think Prenzlauer Berg in Berlin, Le Marais in Paris or the Village in NYC), the middle class have discovered the newly-minted amenity and gradually gentrified the place. Anyway, I found a suitably groovy cafe for a late lunch and it was then I discovered that my Campers were not made for walking. By the time I finished my espresso, I could feel a growing blister on my big toe. It felt awkwardly squishy underfoot, so I relented and took a cab the 2 km back to my hotel.

Lest you think the lessons of your adventure were all wasted, I had the wit to hobble to a nearby supermercado and purchase band aids and antiseptic. Lacking a knife, I found a fountain pen with a sharp (ish) nib and managed to penetrate the thick skin to release the pressure. This morning, all good and ready for a day in the office with Hugo, Humberto, Arturo, Eliseo and friends.

So thank you for your (life saving) advice!

 

One day I will get there, I hope. A city of contrasts and extremes, too wild for me to imagine. And although Campers are made in Spain, I will remember to take the mighty Merrell’s! Pilgrimage needs sole.

Thanks so much Paul, for permission to put the story into the blogosphere. And to Kati, for her images of Mexican silver hearts.

Corazones puros.

 

And don’t forget that if you would like to be kept updated when a new post goes onto the blog (about twice per week) then just go to the little box up on the top right and enter your email address. That way we can journey together!

Gracias.

I hope to see you often.