Redeeming Rewards

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Dear Biddy,

The fairies found a friend in you, faithful to receiving their gifts and a channel to pass on their wisdom to us through potions or foresight from the blue bottle. It has got me thinking about redemption this week. I am visiting Austin, Texas this week and there seems to be a lot of re-purposing going on amongst the wealthy and elites trying to redeem the rewards of their capital raising activities through philanthropy, impact investing … a kind of atonement … not quite a reckoning though. I wonder too about indulgences of the past, a theological paying forward to the next life.

There are so many types of capital and currency. Politicians trade in the currency of fear, I think you Biddy traded in the currency of charms and most days my currency is made of coins of creativity and bills of imagination.   Your pledge to take no money from your gifts is inspiration – no commodification to be seen at your place in the countryside of Ennis.

How I share my gifts freely and offer them at the service of those who seek them is a constant challenge in a market economy and so I am also reflecting on how I redeem those rewards too.

Rewards redeemed

Reckoning requests

Gifts bestowed

Steinbeck at the Longhorns Game

Steinbeck at the Longhorns Game

The Longhorns game echoed Steinbeck (he was one of the first American authors I read, and the novel was The Grapes of Wrath). Steinbeck said about writing that novel:

I want to put a tag of shame on the greedy bastards who are responsible for this [the Great Depression and its effects] … I’ve done my damndest to rip a reader’s nerves to rags.

I am tempted to put this book on the reading list of all the impact investors I heard about this weekend from the US, to help them connect back to the deepest roots of their gifts of time, talent and resources. My blessing is that deep in the heart of Texas a potion to forgive the debt of the rich will deliver a redemption deeper than indulgences.

 

 

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Lunar cycle

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Dear Biddy, You were in my thoughts this week as the waves rolled in off the ocean and started to blow summer to our shores – knowing in your part of the world the cool breezes were starting to take hold. Cycles of the seasons constantly instruct and hold me close to the earth and the skies, as I wander as a pilgrim. There was a full lunar eclipse and the moon turned red. I can imagine in your day this would be been cause for some magical and mystical ritual, for me I grabbed my little digital device and took a photo and stood in the cool after an evening of poetry at a local pub!

Blood Moon over Willunga

Blood Moon over Willunga

The moon has been spectacular this year and I seem to have been able to witness many of its movements in the heavens. During Lent, the first of the four lunar eclipses spaced six months apart occurred and I penned a piece of twitterverse (it was one of my 40 day little poems).

Tetrad of tangos Earth, moon and sun Trio of dancers Eclipse number one.

There is a dance for three called, Shepherd’s Crook it is Scottish, so maybe you did see it in Ireland? Being a shepherd is one the oldest occupations in the settled world and surely that makes the crook one of the oldest implements in our human story. (I love how we use the word ‘crook’ in Australia to describe someone as a criminal, I guess from the fact a crook is bent! ) But there is nothing criminal Biddy in how the moon and sun and earth were doing their own version of the Shepherd’s Crook this week in our skies.   You probably did a good trade in illicit whisky as the season started to turn to winter and perhaps you needed to stock up before your visitors started to dry up as the nights grew longer. This week’s complete lunar eclipse occurred on my birthday eve. It was a perfect backdrop to reflect on the year coming to a close and a new one beginning.   As the dawn arrived so did a plethora of messages to welcome the next year of my life and I felt many waves of love from all corners of the planet and from my nearest and dearest. I have been bathed in kindness and this blood moon, the second of the four in the series, is yet another reminder of love, light and the wonder of the UniVerse and the connections I have that hold me close every day and in every cycle of my life.

My moon In tune.   In step with my blood Another cycle begins And another ends.   My moon In tune.

Birthday flowers and Sparkling Shiraz

Birthday flowers and Sparkling Shiraz

Friday

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Dear Biddy,

While my government’s actions leave me speechless, I am encouraged by the nonviolence in Hong Kong, sunsets and the trio of people, places and technology weaving together to connect me to past, present and future.

On Friday: I go to my local library on line and collect essays from Margaret Attwood after receiving an email from the library the book was ready and waiting for me. An hour earlier an SMS from a friend sends me a quote from Margaret about twitter. During the morning I receive private facebook messages from a relative by marriage I haven’t seen for more than a decade, in the flesh, and later in the day we sit in the sun with the octogenarian sulphur-crested cockatoo (he remembers from his childhood), laugh and reminiscence with his family over fading photographs from the last century. I book my dinner over facebook and collect from a couple who greet me like a treasured customer from the kitchen at the front of their seaside home. I watch the sunset to honour my Dad as it is his birthday and the prayer card for his funeral has a sunset. I notice a tweet from a mainstream TV evening news presenter of another sunset further north up the coast and send one back with the sunset I am watching. It is acknowledged and re-tweeted. I get a few more followers. Returning home emails waiting for me tell me news of progress on an international research project I’m doing, while a downloaded song provides a soundtrack and read about the post-its on the embassy from Chinese students in Australia. I trade a few direct messages with one of my offspring via twitter. I catch up on a couple of shows on iView. In between all this personal activity, I trade calls, emails and co-work on a shared platform to develop an event for the Changemakers Festival, (notice that my friend – who sent the SMS earlier in the day – is in their promo page!) pay my insurance for another event for the Festival, hear news of two more happy pregnancies (adding to one heard via facebook earlier in the week), collect posters for a Christmas concert co-designed and printed off around the corner with someone I didn’t talk to, listen to an audio file, upload photos from a consultation I did earlier in the week (a 600km round trip), update my work schedule and give thanks for this seamless pilgrimage.

People, places, technology.

Turn, turn, turn.

Revolution

 

 

Post-its for Democracy

Post-its for Democracy

 

 

Spring

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Dear Biddy,

Spring’s instruction is to amass your energy and burst through old wood lying in rest, and shoot new growth.

A coming to fullness and into blossom is an act of hope, an act of promise that will bear fruit as the season turns. This season of renewal is a challenge, what has been bubbling along in the dark, now ready to leak out and reach towards the nourishing rays of light. This is a time of year when I reflect on what has been lying in waiting.

Like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis, maybe you emerged Biddy from winter into spring a different creature? This week I have been asked to read job applications, be a referee, support initiatives by at least two people every day! It is an honour to be a witness (and I have written a lot about witness previously).

The job seekers aspire to visibility as they put themselves into the sunlight of the marketplace. What lies in wait for them begins to be revealed in making the application. Embedded into this process is vulnerability, self- examination, the scrutiny of others and a test to travel deeper into yourself. A pilgrimage to consider the interplay between your paid labour and life’s work. David Whyte defines work as “an opportunity for discovering and shaping; the place where the self meets the world” (Crossing the Unknown Sea).

A new job anticipates a seasonal change.

And an extract from Elysium by Emily Dickson who knew a lot about arriving and beginnings reminds us that the journey from darkness to light begins with an ambiguity of who might open the door may well be preceded by steps coming towards us!

What fortitude the Soul contains,

That it can so endure

The accent of a coming Foot,

The opening of a Door!

Green shoots offer potential and respond to the invitation of the warmer weather with a “burst forth”. The vineyards cycle through the seasons around me as a constant reminder the renewal is always just around the corner.   The mornings are my spring-time, when the crisp air wakes me up after the rest of night and calls me to a new day, a new beginning. The mornings are my favourite time to read and write, to unfold into the new day. The applicants greet their new day and even if they are not successful, they are in spring for having taken steps to journey from their winter to the next season of their life.

Spring at Skillogalee

Spring morning at Skillogalee

Waiting in Certainty

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Dear Biddy,

Hope springs eternal apparently.  While reading Albino Luciani’s  (aka Pope John Paul I) letters to famous and fictional figures, he referred to Dante’s definition of hope as waiting in certainty.  I wondered how you might have defined hope? Perhaps your little blue bottle was a vessel of hope, a container of predictions and prophecies of better times ahead.

Maybe each hope is like a trinket on a charm bracelet, a trace to re-member a connection or a moment?

I am drawn to the idea of hope this week in part because of Lara‘s dream of collecting 1000 stories of hope. In the certainty that there is abundance of stories of hope to be told and are lying in waiting to be shared with the world is an act of hope all of it’s own in the week Australian’s head off to war on the other side of the world, yet again.  In grief, I went looking for a blue bottle of my own to compensate – but it was the little blue bird of twitter that filled up my hope bank with messages of peace and alternative futures to war.

Pain and paralysis come before hope. When anticipation sets in and longing takes hold, hope begins to find a home.

Hope is born when we can see something that is not yet there and when we can see what is there with new eyes – it is the old butterfly in the caterpillar tale – and that great parable Hope for the Flowers.

So while we head into war and I am at the pain and paralysis stage, I know hope will follow and that there are more than 1000 stories to be shared.

Disobedience

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Dear Biddy,

One of your famous qualities was disobedience, a refusal to pay homage to money or men, institutional order. Growing up with Irish and Scottish blood in my veins and an oral history of a Greek man jumping ship it seems reasonable that a healthy disregard for authority is part of my DNA. This quality has not skipped a generation and has played out in courts and conversations in more than one jurisdiction.

Refusal to obey authority is central to one’s own health and dignity it may also be vital to birth a new generation of justice and peace.   Howard Zinn remarked that historically the most terrible things have occurred in history because of obedience not disobedience, and while there is a need for order to support civility, so there is the need for civil disobedience.   To speak up when the dangerous and bullying behaviour of authorities bring a civilisation to the edge of its own humanity.

In the luxury of a long lunch at an Italian café, I was in a conversation that was drawing a direct line from the decisions and rhetoric of elected leaders of today to a German government equally elected from a party formed a hundred years ago. I invoked the mantra of the RSL “Eternal Vigilance” as their constant attention to who they see is the enemy of democracy has a lot to offer those of us who stop paying attention or slip into the comfort of a cappuccino.

In doing some deeper research into that mantra I have discovered the phrased morphed from Irish lawyer and politician John Philpot Curran‘s original:

 The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance.

(and fascinatingly, Marx recommended Engels read Curran’s speeches to get instruction from a people’s advocate.)

To obey means to turn to hear … and so disobedience may in fact be to listen to an inner authority and turn to hear what the still small voice calls you to and sometimes that voice is very loud and can get you into trouble. Bricks through bedroom windows, graffiti and abuse in public, vilification in the media, some of the sounds and messages passed on as well as songs of justice and peace, laughter and love. It is a very small price to pay in my part of the world for someone with my colour, education and economic status.

To name these times, to show and tell, to explain and help discover what is at the heart of what it means to civil is an everyday discipline: a constant practice that needs exercising.

I pay my deepest respects to all those who stand up, speak out, play and silently act in solidarity and hold vigils. I call on those ancestors of mine to breathe their courage into me so I might do the same and practice eternal vigilance.

howard zinn

Lighting Up

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Dear Biddy,

Former President of Ireland, Mary McAleese visited my town this week and my heart sung! She unfolded stories from her life as a child in the kitchen, as a mother coaxing a child out of bed, as a negotiator around the Good Friday Peace Agreement table and as a loved and loving wife to a lifelong partner and an icing on the cake tale telling the Vatican it is bonkers. Music to my ears in message and lilt. It was one of those nights when I fell in love with my city. The Adelaide Town Hall was tightly stacked and plenty of people left to hear the podcast and live stream as there was literally not a spare seat.

Mary’s tales were of partnerships, friendships, conversations and the power of tea and buns. Nothing can be built without respect and no respect can be offered without the simple truth of recognising we are all walking the same journey and have a yearning for justice and peace … even though we might separate on how that might be achieved.

Terrorism once invisible and hidden in the shadows is now publicly displayed on every media platform available. The brutality and horror is front and centre. The sophistication of technologically charged drones that are managed by gamers recruited from online game parks are matched against the disenchanted and disenfranchised youth seeking adventure and martyrdom for their cause. What is hidden behind screens and balaclavas are not much different to each other. Mary McAleese insisted her suitors in the peace process come in the front door for all the world to see, no back rooms, no balaclavas.

When there is no light, all it takes is for a candle to be lit and sitting in the Adelaide Town Hall this week I thought of all the candles that would have been lit in prayer and with hope to bring about the peace process in Northern Ireland. I thought of all the candles I have lit to give me a boost and to remind me that it is in the light that I can see more clearly. I thought of all the candles that might be needed to bring about the peace in our world in all the places where darkness is making its home.

Coming into the light, and beckoning others to do the same, so that together you can all clearly see more of what can be done together will bring clarity and peace.

I’m a little over leaning in and think that lighting up is the way to go.

Nelson Mandela Lecture 2014 UniSA, Adelaide Town Hall

Nelson Mandela Lecture 2014 UniSA, Adelaide Town Hall

Letters

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Dear Biddy,

I have always loved letters – writing them and receiving them. All my childhood I had pen pals and took up letter-writing as activism early in my teens. I have written letters to editors, to commissions, Prime Ministers and prisoners, to people living and dead (like yourself). I have read letters and diaries that others have written as fiction such as C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Sue Townsend’s The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole. I have read all the letters attributed to St Paul to those first communities of Christians in Ephesus, Corinth and Galatia. And those beautiful diaries – letters to themselves – from history to help tell the story of the human spirit like The Diary of Anne Frank and Etty Hellisum. (Letters and diary entries, as a primary source and witness to war, are popular with screenwriters at the moment as Australia awaits the centenary of ANZAC.)

The letter is a sacred form of literature, conveying an intimacy of the ordinary and the extraordinary. Arriving to bring news of some kind and whatever kind of news a letter brings there is a comfort, a warmth, a connective tissue that is held between the two even now when most of those letters arrive on the invisible thread of electronic mail with a ping to mimic the time when a man home-delivered letters on a bicycle. As a child I used to run when I heard the putt-putt of a very low cc scooter come into the street to collect the letters from the ‘postie’. Bringing the letters into the house was a ritual of bringing some news from the outside world, my job as a herald fulfilled for another day! An experience that is fading fast as the digital age roars on.

When I undertook some rigorous academic research I studied one hundred years of papal letter-writing to the faithful on matters of social justice. These encyclicals, literally circular letters, written by the Bishop of Rome to his brother Bishops as instructions, advice and support to guide those in their spiritual care on matters of import, sent me on a quest to identify what was relevant to women in my part of the world and what (if anything) could be recovered from them to guide and direct reflection and social action.

Each week when I sit down to write to you Biddy, I wonder what I will tell you, and I rarely know beforehand what will leak out onto the page. Each keystroke adding to the last to form words, then sentence and finally a letter. When I post the letter it is for the world to see and public revelation of my thoughts to you for another week. I wanted to tell you about my association with letters today, in part, because I was intrigued to learn via a play (The Last Confession) that John Paul 1 was another letter writer. When he was a Bishop he wrote a series of forty letters to historical and fictional characters. The collection includes letters written to Pinocchio, The Barber of Seville as well as usual suspects like Teresa of Avila and Jesus. I am looking forwarding to reading Luciani’s letters.

Hannah Brencher tells of the powerful experience of receiving daily letters from her mother when a long way from home and feeling miserable, she attributes the letters she received to helping restore her to health.  She takes this experience to the next level and invites us to join her global movement of hand written love letters to strangers.

While my letters are to you Biddy, they are also for others to read, strangers to voyeur on my musings to you; perhaps to glimpse something familiar for comfort or insight or a starting place to reflect. Biddy I wonder if you wrote any love letters ? I am pretty sure you would have received some!

The world does need more love letters and there is no document more treasured than the one received by someone you love and none more deeply invested than the one you send to your love.

Love Letter from God - Songlines Station, Sellicks Beach NYE 2013

Love Letter from God – Songlines Station, Sellicks Beach NYE 2013

 

Just show up

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Dear Biddy,

The difference between pilgrimage and journey is that for the pilgrim each step is the journey, not the destination. Living in this way opens up new possibilities with every step. I am helped to being in the now by living gratefully and receiving the gift of each precious moment that offers opportunities and giving myself to the opportunity. Br David Steindl-Rast is the guru of teaching how to live this way, regardless of creed or belief system. His mantra to receive each moment as gift, can some times be quite overwhelming, an overflow of gratitude that saturates the soul.

As I have written before Biddy, improv is a great meditative tool and practice to support mindfulness. While sitting on stool in a bar by the river in Singapore I heard a young woman wrestle with her conflicting emotions of excitement and fear in taking up a new challenge. We were in good company and on the spot two improvisers were able to deliver there and then on the spot a reflection of those conflicting emotions – her joy and release were shared by the rest of us in this small group. A simple exchange. A sacred moment. How wonderful it would be if improv was applied and accessible in many other conversations. During this week at dinner there was a moment to teach a simple improv exercise (one word at a time) with friends who are in similar professional settings to me. One of their number, then applied that activity a couple of days later.

Like folk music, these gifts of improv, travel, are adopted and passed on to a new community. The power of play to teach and reach deep into our emotional selves provides the lived experience for the lessons to be internalised and remembered long after playtime is over.

Improv Workshop - TorontoBeing able to show up and be present and to share – the give and the take – an eternal exchange – just like breathing in and out – is the pilgrim’s vocation. The primer for this work is provided by Br David and whatever your spiritual heritage or practice his inclusivity makes his message of gratitude accessible to all.

Biddy, I am sure you took time for conversations about the celtic dreamtime; where the elements dance with the story of the landscape, the little people and trials and tribulations of everyday life.  And in that conversation a parting glass of whisky is raised sending pilgrims on their way. A conversation between you and Br David might lead to celebrating the sunrise, admiring the wild herbs making their way from wayside to table and a toast to a goodnight’s sleep to refresh you for the journey ahead.

You are both great companions for me on my pilgrimage.

First Time

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We shall not cease from exploration 

And the end of all our exploring 

Will be to arrive where we started 

We know the place for the first time.

T.S. Eliot

 Dear Biddy,

The exploration never ceases, even when we don’t know we are exploring the journey unfolds unexpectedly when ground beneath our feet falls away or perhaps when directions being followed don’t translate to the road on which we are travelling. Around every corner, in every nook and cranny, in the spaces between conversations there is one arrival after another. All we have to do is turn up. To be in the moment, to be fully present to the present and to do the next thing at hand.

I am the type of person who says: what do you mean there is nothing in the house to eat? I can invent ten different menus and feed ten people out of nearly empty cupboards. It is the first time every time.

This week I have topped up for my love affair with improv, connecting with Tapestry Playback in Singapore and taking applied improvisation training from Izzy Gessel and dramatic facilitation with Ajit Kamath. The sheer joy and power of connecting is always beautiful to witness, give and receive. There are invitations everywhere around us to say yes and. More importantly the lesson for me this week Biddy has been one of co-creation. I like making. I work from the proposition that we have everything we need and can make do with what we’ve got, being creative is nothing special.

I remember two natural disasters that were connected to my life in oblique ways – Hurricane Katrina and the Asian Tsunami. Immediately after the tsunami, literally within days, locals began rebuilding their homes, burying the dead, fishing and foraging for food. They knew their landscape and were part of the eco-system. Immediately after Katrina families were unable to feed themselves and food was being shipped in. For the first time in history the US was in receipt of overseas aid. Months later when I visited New Orleans it was like a deserted theme park the morning after a big party. Row after row of houses remained abandoned and the shipping containers home to prisoners an unwelcome reminder of the incarceration rate in that part of the world. From the skies a blanket of national emergency tarpaulins blanketed large parts of the city. The subsistence economy of Aceh preserved and enabled life to return to some kind of normal in a relatively short time. Not so for the people of Louisiana. I wonder why I am telling you this story Biddy? I think this tale of two cities calls me to be reliant and to keep connected to my own world and to pay attention to the forces of nature so that whatever gets hurled, I am ready to receive and not be seduced by relying on what I have gained or lost, but to be in the moment and to say yes and to what is within and alongside of me – not to look too far behind or too far ahead but to be in the moment, fully present to the present. And in doing that know the place for the first time.

Every time I meditate it is as if I have never done it before. Improv is the same, each offering a completely new and unique moment. Each moment never to be repeated and total gift – as David Whyte says : Everything is waiting for you … and indeed it is! The kettle is waiting to sing for me. The rubbish is waiting for me to mid-wife it to recycling. The blooms in the garden waiting to be admired. Arms waiting to hold me and all I have to do is turn up and be present. Each time is the first time.

Golden Arches

Golden Arches