Random Thoughts (3)

Source: http://www.lovethispic.com/image/36213/leaves-in-the-wind

The most unmistakable expression of Love is compassion. If I do not suffer with the other or at the very least if I do not try to alleviate the pain of the other the best I can, I have done nothing. My art, too, it will mean nothing.

A friendship which demands ‘my enemies are your enemies too’ is one that needs to be quickly broken. It will destroy the one and rob the other. Do not permit for another to exercise any form of dominion over the arc of your embrace.

The world resists us all, both the righteous and the unrighteous. We are all subject to gravity and to the unbearable weight of grief and loss. There is none amongst us who desires to be hated more than the need to be loved. And in the middle of all this we shift between the states of lukewarm.

We make use of noise to numb us to our wounds. We are all wounded and seek out different ways to forget. This is one of the principal reasons why social media has taken hold of the world and choking it of its life-force. It has become increasingly painful to think and to swim upstream.

First the eye becomes corrupted then the heart. That is, the flesh first wages war against us and then should we lose this battle, it is the turn of the heart which is the seat of the soul. This is where the hardest of all battles are to be fought, that is, in the heart. Here it is where most is to be gained and most is to be lost.

Why is it we so quickly tire of carnality and become too soon bored with all manner of sensual pleasure? Is it not the case that we are for the most part looking for someone to speak to? To say: this is who I am, see me, in all of my nakedness and trembling.

The other of the great deceptions is that technology will solve most of our problems. But we have found that for every advance new problems are created. And even more alarmingly we are creating autonomous systems which will neither thirst nor hunger. On top of all of this, they will not forget.

And yet life really is beautiful, to be celebrated and to be lived out to its end. Satisfying your thirst with an icy glass of water; moments spent loving another human being; saying I love you for the very first time. For such simple pleasures as these and many more, life can really be beautiful.

Do not die without trying your best to become the man and woman you were meant to become. Aim for the highest in you and make that good reach towards the fullness of your capacity. For one day beginning with those moments just before your death, the man or woman you were intended to become will confront you for the last time. They will give you their hand and you will be left with no other option but to take it.

Few things are sweeter than the practice of forgiveness from a heart which overflows with the rivers of mercy. Few things are bitterer to the spirit than a forgiveness which is given but not forgotten. We find forgiveness difficult because we often confuse it as a pardon for the act itself.

At any given moment when you look into the eyes of your neighbor irrespective of their office in life, there you see the Christ before you. You will discern Him more clearly in the eyes of those who mourn (Matt. 5:4). To think too highly of ourselves is the surest way to becoming lost.

Rocks and pebbles exist in a community of cooperation. They do not discriminate in the presence of the other, nor do they heckle or shove for position. They wait in quiet offering shade and protection to the life around them. Some are under the soil, others covered in moss, and many are under the water shifting only under the draw of nature. They wait patiently to be discovered one afternoon as you recite the Beatitudes.

A thousand winters, written like this, could be no more than a week. All of a sudden, perspective is God.

These are your terrifying moments of cleansing

Shellharbour, NSW

What to do when you want to pray but cannot? When you would wish for your heart to become ‘dumb’ and turn to stone if only for a short hour that the pain could go away. This terrible nauseous pain which goes by many names and which in reality answers to none. But, no, your heart must never turn to stone, not even for an hour, for that would be an hour where you would stop loving, where you would lose all capacity to forgive or ask to be forgiven. No, you must never ask for your heart to turn to stone, not even for an hour. Not even for the time it takes to suck in your breath. And so, suffer all of the calumny, the blood-letting rejection, and in the night close your eyes to the horror vacui of your rooms. As tempting it might be to stop the pain, to dry up the flow of tears, to wipe away the bad memories which become increasingly beastly by the minute, do not ever wish for your heart to turn to stone. What to do when you want to pray but cannot? When you would wish for your heart to become ‘dumb’ and turn to stone if only for a short hour that the pain could go away.

“Self-portrait” in Paphos, Cyprus, 2016. MG Michael Family Archives.

“Self-portrait” in Paphos, Cyprus, 2016. MG Michael Family Archives.

But this pain like an old guilt does not easily go away. Both have changed you and for a season you will only exist and move about in the shadows. That's why think on those whom you might have comforted on their deathbeds when you whispered into ears straining for light [for their eyes had now shut]: “Let go, it is good, now is the time to leave.” Remember the unmerited grace you have received which has covered the multitude of your iniquities. Be grateful there is water in your home and you will not thirst tonight when your throat burns. Get up, wash your face, and write a loving message to your enemy. Like an Armenian flute suspended over the Syrian Desert. In a little while feel the heavy load upon your heart start to lift, even for a moment. And for now that is enough. Begin again. Like the free-flow juice pressed and crushed from the grape. These are your terrifying moments of cleansing, one way or another, you have earned them. Do not waste them.

The shadows, too, for a while, do not be afraid of them. They would not exist if the light was not after you. It is after you. You cannot outrun it. These prayers have nothing to do with the rubrics as does this pain which has little to do with the nerve fibers. There are the spaces of the entering into your becoming, the unveiling of your true self. From here, out of these all-consuming green fires, you will step out to greet the world.

The Old Man from Bucharest

September 12th, 2011

Bucharest, Romania

A sharp glance to the left and there he was, my old man.

Earlier today on my morning walk I noticed a charismatic looking old man sitting on the steps leading down to the Piata Romana train terminal. As my eyes fell on him I straightaway felt that pleasurable warmth we might feel when we see a loved one coming nearer from the distance. “Hullo old man”, I whispered to myself, “we two have met before.” He was tall, thin, with a frowzy silvery beard, and ascetic in his appearance. I would guess his age somewhere in the seventies. He was wearing a long brown coat which fell below the knees and which reminded me of a huge poster I had once seen in Istanbul of Turkmenistan aksakals. Walking on I decided to take a seat at the nearby bus-stop before heading to the hotel for a late breakfast and a change of shirt. Within a few minutes I sensed a welcome presence approaching to share my bench. A sharp glance to the left and there he was, my old man. Thereupon I also noticed the eyes; a dark shade of green and a little sunken. They were peaceful, comprehending eyes. I felt them looking into me, through and past the boundaries of my flesh. As I have felt before with the elders of the desert. We stayed together, the old man and me, for the better part of two hours. We sat quietly observing the world and listening to the stories. Now and then we turned to look at each other. He then left disappearing into the busy street. Who was he and where did he go, Michael? I would think our phlegmatic Irishman Samuel Beckett would have liked this picture. We are all waiting. The not too easy task is to identify things and to give them their name.

N.B. The image in this entry is not of the old man in the story. After much searching online this striking photograph I have added here is amazingly close. My beautiful "old man" would not permit for me to take his photograph. MGM

Draft for a little story after a chance encounter

An old man stepped out into the bright light and headed towards Piata Romana. He looked about with the gaze of the barn-owl and walked off into the direction of the bus-stop where others were also waiting. His disorganized flowing silvery beard and his balding head did not detract from the compelling loveliness of his countenance. Though he could have done with a good scrubbing and his clothes were in need of a wash, there was yet this ‘cleanliness’ about him that you would not have considered him in any manner soiled. The younger man with the laptop in his hands, next to whom the old man from Bucharest sat to rest, was also balding but was clean shaven for his time had not yet come. The old man was carrying a small suitcase. “They usually do” the younger man thought to himself, “…these types of fellows seem to always be carrying suitcases and do not go for shoe-laces either.” The younger man, the one whose time had not yet come, peered into the suitcase which was held together by two large luggage straps. He spotted a fleece blanket of different colours and a gold-leaf trumpet. He also thought he could make out a plume of white feathers. The old man and the younger man exchanged glances, each accepting and recognizing the presence of the other. Their eyes scanned the crowd with their heads moving in unison left to right, up and down, precisely as the moment would require. Now and then their attention was lost to a robin or to a leaf from the black locust. And the old man and the younger man would look at each other, acknowledging the beauty in the world which goes by many names. The younger man offered the old man a Romanian pretzel; he took it without saying a word except to nod his head in approval. The old man from Bucharest with the disorganized flowing silvery beard reached into his torn coat and pulled out a small monumental tree. He then jumped to his feet and with episcopal dignity lowered his head and touched his chest with his right hand. The younger man did the same. But the old man did not leave until the younger man took off his shoes and offered them to the outstretched hands which, from the wrist up, were covered in thick white down.

The Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin

August 30th Monday, 2011

Brasov, Transylvania

One of the more popular gifts and souvenirs shops which tourists to Brasov will visit. You can see MG's reflection on the window. MG Michael archives

One of the more popular gifts and souvenirs shops which tourists to Brasov will visit. You can see MG's reflection on the window. MG Michael archives

I would like to experience a winter liturgy in this faraway place. Brasov must be even more charming when arrayed in her Carpathian white. I remember particularly the winters in Jerusalem, and Berne, and Rome, and London, and Istanbul, and in the north of Greece when without ever realizing it, I was starting to fall apart. Yet winter remains my favourite season. Maybe it is the heavy downpours when the rain writes its poetry on our roofs, on our umbrellas, on our heads, or the hot baths we might take which take on the guise of wombs and arks. Perhaps, too, it is those wonderfully unguarded moments when lightning strikes to be followed by the peal of thunder, when “clouds collide” as the ancients once believed. Impossible things become possible again. “You gave abundant showers, O God; you refreshed your weary inheritance” (Ps. 68:9).

The Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin on the east side of the city square, Brasov. MG Michael archives

The Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin on the east side of the city square, Brasov. MG Michael archives

Most of our departures are tinged with a certain kind of sadness. ‘Departure’ is at the centre of our most beautiful music and has inspired some of our greatest art. This strongly felt emotion is not always connected to the specific attachment of a place. More often it is the onset of nostalgia “the desire to be at home”, which for von Hardenberg was the essence of philosophy. Other times we know that things which we desperately want to hold again, are even now out there somewhere, but they are forever gone; or as Nabokov has written when reflecting on a similar awareness, “[t]he pity of it is that I’ll never find them again – never.” If it was possible I would stay here in Brasov for at least a fortnight. I am forced to leave sooner than I would have liked. Built in 1896 the ‘hidden’ Cathedral Church [it is lined up with other buildings] on the east side of the city square, Piata Sfatului, with its imposing Eastern Orthodox iconography and richly gilded panels, the frankincense ignited into the air by the burning charcoal, and her venerable old priests who come and go like veteran angels in a city that I had never known existed, is rekindling warm memories in my heart. It is overwhelmingly beautiful once inside that you could have stepped into a huge ‘gold box’. Moreover, it is noticeably silent for it is a consecrated space given over to intercession after the example of the Holy Theotokos, in whose honour the Catedrala is dedicated. Planted on the door to the Assumption of the Virgin on a weathered piece of green paper is a prayer: “Bless all the Christians who will go over the threshold of this holy church with the patron of ‘Assumption’, devoted to the Heavenly Almighty Father, Son of God-The Saviour and to the Holy Spirit, enlightener of our mind and souls. Joy to those who come, peace be with those who remain, blessing for those who leave!”

Yet the world still waits outside and prayers can sometimes take a long time to be heard… like an echo from the other side of the world. Reality can quickly set in. I must hold onto this overpowering mood which I cannot properly describe, except to speak of it in terms of a sweet surrender. Today as well, similarly to that agonizing evening before leaving Australia for Tolleshunt Knights all those years ago, and in one or two other places, I hold in my heart an irresistible love for those who might have brought pain into my life. It is during such merciful times that we come to the wonderful, almost maddening realization that a lot of what is good in us we owe to our “persecutors”. They teach us patience, endurance, and the practise of forgiveness. It is now, days like these, that we can let go of large loads of built-up pain but also ourselves to ask forgiveness of others. We are in this dance together. Afterwards it is good to quickly move on, to not exaggerate the moment, or to go too deeply into it. This is a glorious afternoon made all the more tremendous by this increasing sense of resignation in me which started sometime after our first child was born. The busy main square, the Council Square, is bathed in a downpour of golden sunlight; a busker is playing a beautiful tune by the spiral fountain. I have my writing pad; a collection of Mircea Eliade’s short stories; some cigarettes; and I am waiting on my second espresso. And though Dracula’s Castle is just ‘up the road’ to remind me of the other side, I do feel happy. Whatever might happen tonight or tomorrow and however long this all-consuming fire endures, for in my life it has come and gone in dribs and drabs, I have by the grace of God been loved as deeply as I too have loved. It is enough. If for some moral philosophers Life is the highest good, then surely it can be argued that Love is its highest measure.

On the road to the endodontist

Gerringong-Sutherland-Kingsgrove

Last minute reminders to Katina; we need a new coffee machine; keep in mind to turn off the lights; one last check of the email; I should not have sent the last two; we can make the same mistake for a hundred years; One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967); Gabriel Garcia Márquez; Macondo; do not leave without directions; I must not get lost in Sutherland; on the road to the endodontist; do not lose sight of the metaphor; drive past the laundry at Kiama; the car is low on fuel; laminate the picture of the pelican; Princes Highway, Acacia Road; turn left into President Avenue; then right into Glencoe Street; will he take the tooth out; let the jaw, dear Lord, not be infected again; too soon since the last time; a physical pain difficult to decipher; maxilla; mandible; horseshoes in the mouth; Sutherland Library; restricted street parking; 24/7 external book-return chute; Saint Nicephorus the Leper (d. 1964); heal our hearts from their deformities; the beauty of the flesh invariably deceives; jaws which fly; jaws of the poets; jaws of life; I will probably lose another tooth; to go along with my diminishing sight; and the loss of hearing; each day closer to that binding perfection; the end of words; solitude in wait after the last sleep; Seamus Heaney (1939- 2013); Beowulf: A New Verse Translation (2000); “For every one of us, living in this world/ means waiting for our end”; in Corelli’s on King Street, Newtown; across the road from the Reno Café; now in another of its incarnations: ‘Veganism is Magic’; a big cup of hot chocolate; fig and coconut balls; a long glass of orange juice; playing with glass marbles on the streets with Theo; cat’s eyes; corkscrews; clearies; I have lost another friend; who is to blame; what does it matter when we are walking on bones; “If not for flesh’s pretty paint, we’re just a bunch of skeleton working hard to deny the fact of bones” (Christopher Kennedy); thank you Lord, for returning my little tribe from Arizona; it will be very difficult to be apart; the soul unites more truthfully than the flesh; Stefan Lochner (1410-1451); blue-winged angels; illuminated manuscripts; how I love this song; “Now you will see the colors change/ And the mountains come together one to one; Angels as mortals will be embracing you/ Your enemies will speak to you lovingly”; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kMixBIsHk0c; an  eager waiter behind the cake display pointing to the caramel slice; his ginger goatee curled up like an old manuscript; two young lovers to the right rubbing each other’s backs making a wish; a man with snowy hair is adjusting his headphones interpreting the white noise; the bubbly middle-aged waitress walking past with five red plates nestled on the crook of her left arm; outside an old man with a tweed flat cap pauses to smoke and to make signals; a woman dressed in blue with yellow socks is walking her well-informed mongrel; it pauses to take a [the] piss; a young man in a long brown coat is attempting to set sail; Italy at risk of new financial crisis; Israel and Gaza trade heavy fire; Cuba calls on US and Canada to investigate ‘sonic attack’ claims; peace comes with selective resignation; “Teacher, teach yourself” (St. John of Kronstadt); “Now is the day of Good Will/ Let us not be mean” (St. Isaac Syrian); Hesy-Re first known dental practitioner (2600 BCE); dental fillings in China (700 CE); the first book about dentistry published in Germany (1530); of the relationships of all forms of energy; thermodynamics; “Let there be light” (Gen. 1:3); Paco de Lucia; Al di Meola; John McLaughlin; mellifluous; ethereal; syzygy; “your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding”(Khalil Gibran); the right heel digging into the left ankle; my nose itches like a forgotten transgression; new shoes too tight, darn it; keep your letter, already it is He and not I, who can do the forgiving; it is enough I have let you have the last say; the untold beauty of endurance; distance cycling; raindrops hitting the pavement like lost poems; “Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby” (Langston Hughes); walking with my friend John C. Havens on the edges of the Pacific Ocean; Sailfish; Bigeye Tuna; Black Marlin; pigment; binder; solvent; Yayoi Kusama (b. 1929); Vija Celmins (b. 1938); Sonia Boyce (b. 1962); “Creativity takes courage” (Henri Matisse); my toes are cold; I can blow on my fingers; but I cannot blow on my toes; few actions are as awesome an improvisation; phenomenology; hermeneutics; perception; all songs take us back to the beginning; like a goodbye letter written on the keys of a piano; I remember you playing “Starry, Starry Night” in Tel Aviv; primordial light; cosmic dawn; dark matter; “They do not compete, the bird and the wind” (Margarita Michelena); synergistic phenomena; Oxpeckers and Zebras; MH 370 search to end on May 29; Dow drops nearly 400 points; Ebola outbreak in Equateur province, DRC; I will have to live with this ‘thorn in the flesh’; it is done now; too many trips downstream to smash the boat; hidden waters; springs underneath a tree; holy wells; each day I understand more of how ‘this’ could end; the one who ‘opposes’ and who goes by different names; is not in ‘place of’ but ‘against’; The Preaching of the Antichrist, Luca Signorelli (1450-1523); “Then I saw a second beast, coming out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb, but it spoke like a dragon.” (Rev. 13:11); alphanumerics; we discern suffering and we hurt; mind and body are united; consider the implications of dualism and AI; Sutherland Library; restricted street parking; 24/7 external book-return chute; The Elephant Odes (1996); “I praise your strength, your ambulant/ astrologies”; Judith Beveridge (b. 1956); wood, rags, or grasses; pulp and the mulberry bark; a paper cut little envelopes on the fingers; Vasilis Tsitsanis; Manolis Chiotis; Giorgos Zampetas; to my left a family of three in a black sedan accelerating to their destiny; tap three times top right steering wheel; wheel; deal; Lucile; multiple points of entry; increasing vulnerability; uberveillance multiplying like a deadly virus; the space inside your head the ultimate poster; The Technological Society (1954), Jacques Ellul; I am sorry to say; all else is deception; disguised lies; or wishful thinking; and that’s okay, sometimes; home at Kingsgrove for the night, where I was born numerous times; getting up in the early hours of the morning; scratching the walls even now looking for the clues; Mother still folding ships from white paper napkins; they are multiplying next to the television set; surrounded by the ‘living’ and the ‘dead’; Codex Sinaiticus; Codex Alexandrinus; Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus; quantum mechanics; quantum field theory; quantum gravity; William Hartnell; Patrick Troughton; Jon Pertwee; before you go to bed for the last time; may this thought cross your mind; my life belonged to the land of miracles; let us swim in our neighbors’ pools;  The Swimmer (1968); Burt Lancaster; wings, everywhere I see wings; leaves dropping from citrus trees; the dusky knight butterfly; one of the great memoir titles; Give Dust a Tongue; John F. Deane (b. 1943); Tasawwuf, beyond reason; “God is love and God is the beloved”; Dikhr; cyclical movements; planetary cycles; whirling and spinning; Acacia irrorata; Eucalyptus eugenoides; Livistonia australis; there are times when light and darkness are indistinguishable; the electron gains energy; we glow, we are all bioluminescent; “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matt. 5:7); bunji; unna; kaya; Albert Namatjira; Dorothy Napangardi; Rover Thomas; angels with huge quills; ink wells of cirrocumulus; thunderstorms of epic poetry; okay, till next time; fold the blood away, Michael; glorious cherry.