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.

In my bedroom early morning hours January 7th 2018

Gerringong, NSW

The heat almost unbearable tonight; like the years lost to phantasms; memories which mock till sucked dry; the roundness of my back a parachute; this body once carved from Greek marble; the teasing of a spirit which stays young; the soft flesh and decay of teeth; tonight this is not who I am; tonight I am a god smearing moonlight on my face; I am a poet until the sunrise; and my hair is thick and hiding a multitude of stories; Augustine of Hippo “ever-present eternity”; “[y]et the timeless in you is aware of life’s timelessness” (Khalil Gibran); “At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise” (Dan. 12:1); I hear the waves crashing onto the shore; years ago the Pacific Ocean almost claimed me; the water has been after me since the womb; vodka; voda; little water; you can drift off nicely with a huge ear; tympanic membrane; Bugs Bunny “Rabbit of Seville”; Syd Barrett busking in Paris before his conflagration; Estas Tonne’s burning fingers whirling dervishes in Madrid; the blind guitar player on Piccadilly Circus looks my way; word association associative patterns; “[w]ild, wild horses we’ll ride them some day” (The Rolling Stones); Eleni wakes up to a nightmare; J.P. Morgan; the ‘1907 Panic’; the Federal Reserve System; do understand it is a private trust; this generation has been reeling in the darkness; algorithms are without soul; ‘number crushing’ will be reversed; to the right on top my side drawer four books; The Handmaid’s Tale; Titus Andronicus; The Robots of Dawn; David Brooks' The Fern Tattoo; to the left on top my side drawer; the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece; a pair of blue crystal angels; a prayer rope; a Rubics cube; a bronze owl from Istanbul; the stories from Paphos almost done; I enjoyed drafting these on the mountain; I might send them to Westerly; I am nodding off; I will sleep for a few hours; here on this bed you were conceived; 5.47 AM; “From bed and sleep hast Thou raised me up”; dreamt of my Father sitting on a ledge in his suit; episodic memory; aromatic incense; Lily of Aegina; 2 charcoal pieces; Surrealism and the unconscious; Salvadore Dali (1904-1989);  camouflage; concealing colouration; “[y]ou can close your eyes to reality but not to memories” (Stanislaw Jerzy Lec); it is a little cooler; remnants will be left behind; my pillow wet like London rain; I am getting a new laptop; I wish I did not need one; nobody needs Facebook; great alphabets are hidden in our backyard; “[o]nly the body remembers stillness”; Elvia Garcia Ardalani; back soon must quench my thirst; chilled tomato juice; savoury crackers and cheddar cheese; a short black; Boat Harbour Rock Pool; Seven Mile Beach; Cathedral Rocks; midnight Christmas services the Julian Calendar; typewriter patented on this day (1714); total fire bans are in place; motifs return in different keys; they come back on their head; Ludwig van Beethoven; Claude Debussy; Jon Lord; we are all connected; all things touch; except the “internet of things” which has no soul; but Charles Bukowski has soul (1920-1994); Iranian oil tanker fire leaves 32 missing;  “Aussie Flu” outbreak; Donald Trump ‘absolutely’ would talk with Kim Jong-Un; Titus Andronicus; pulp fiction; “Art thou not sorry for these heinous deeds?” (Titus Andronicus); redemption; “the action of being saved”; recovery; Katina and the little ones at the beach; George gone fishing; my left leg folded under the right has gone to sleep; Tito Colliander (1904-1989); The Way of the Ascetics; searching for faith in a disbelieving world; Pythagoras’ golden thigh; speak to me great river; bite the head off the old serpent; 10:07 AM; I will take a shower; a shower like a baptism promises re-birth; healed in the waters of the Pool of Siloam and the Gihon Spring; blue sundew; purple garlic; dark orange; the dyers guild protected their secrets closely; the porcelain guild even more; my guardian angel above and beyond; Uberveillance is nearer than I thought; who will be able to resist; save your children; blood pressure 157/95; pressure in large arteries; sphygmomanometer; the explosion of colour; diffuse nebulae; interstellar matter; second breakfast: Melba toast, feta cheese, black olives, and a drop of Sangiovese; drafted a poem; revised two translations; listened to Loreena McKennitt; leafed through some old photographs; joyful-sorrow; translate to ‘double-edged sword’; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wIS3Y-lZStU;  “I made my song a coat” (W. B. Yeats); Red Mashad Persian Rug; the Blueface Angelfish will dazzle in the Indo-Pacific; diamonds rain down on the surface of Jupiter; Katina and the little ones have returned; George is still with Pops; our neighbours mowing the lawns; the shrieking of Galahs; much cooler and “partly cloudy”; stratus; cumulus; stratocumulous; a postcard from Singapore arrived two days ago; a letter from the bank; an invitation to a wedding; remember Mary Wollstonecraft; she died giving birth to her daughter; the other Mary who wrote Frankenstein; “[i]f I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear!”; back later don’t go away; 9:47 PM; “The day has passed, and I give You thanks, Lord”; another ritual washing; at least the flesh will be clean; earlier a bowl of lentil soup, onion, olives, with crusty bread; a tall cold beer; a mild cigar; a secure roof; unqualified love; blessings beyond words and so my heart be silent and do not complain; “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His love endures forever” (Ps.136); belief is action and movement; belief is not dogmatic it is ongoing counsel through the darkness; “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mk. 9:24); Jeremy bouncing a ball downstairs; Eleni drawing pictures in the big room; Frida Kahlo (1907-1954); look on the underside of the image; a magical realist acquainted with grief; I am upstairs in the bedroom; “Beam me up, Scotty” (Star Trek); Google maps; ‘view or edit your timeline’; what will be the truth; to the right of me the bathroom; to the left of me the walk-in wardrobe; and to the front of me “[t]wo roads diverged in a yellow wood” (Robert Frost); Siccar Point; time split into many points; creation and evolution; blue whale; white whale; grey whale; it invariably comes down to triggers; “Stories that educate and inspire those with OCD” (Stuart Ralph); tap… tap… Tao; the Titanic burned; the iceberg came after; like the new world we are building; “dance me to the end of love” (Leonard Cohen); Salome; Isadora Duncan; Martha Graham; chasse triple step; lock step; feather step; Rabindranath Tagore; Nandalal Bose; Niranjan Bhagat; contextual modernism; orchid; lotus; bleeding heart; last week I dreamt I was wrestling with myself; I had the ‘other’ in a tight headlock; subdue that which wars within you; courage; enlightenment; collapsing stars and gamma-ray bursts; all good for now; the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali; from the shadow of death; light will dawn; it all goes too quick, the little bird lamented; let us cry together tonight.

An Afternoon Walk Through Gerringong Cemetery

“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (Saint Paul); our reflection on the back of a marble tombstone; mine and that of my eldest son; two obituaries walking one alongside the other; Christopher James Cullen died 18th June 1911, Aged 59 Years; Mary Elizabeth Knight died 2nd November 1926, Aged 64 Years; William Gilbert Weir died 18th March 1947, Aged 78 Years; Helen Macdonald H is for Hawk; Elisabeth Kübler-Ross On Death and Dying; Viktor Frankl Man’s Search for Meaning; Pacific Ocean; large pine trees; scattered wooden benches with plaques; here under this grass; here under these roots; here beneath this earth; cemeteries the only truthful universities; “Gerringong cemetery dedicated 2nd July, 1863”; earliest recorded grave Evan Campbell 12th September 1863;  “early graves run East to West facing the spectacular coastline”; Belinda Street; Percy Street; Fern Street down the road; aromatic incense dripping off flowers; “Suffer the little children to come unto Me” (Matt 19:14); there is no suffering to be compared with that of losing a child; “The paradox of suffering and evil is resolved in the experience of compassion and love” (Nicolas Berdyaev); Georgia Louise Gillard [Stillborn] died 13th June 1990; Ernest H. Williams died November 14th 1913, Aged 9 Months; William James Purcill died 29th December 1936, Aged 2 Years; Boat Harbour to our right; whale watch deck; pathway through to Werri Beach; I know what you are thinking my boy; okay, tell me something I don’t know; there are shards of light streaking from the bottom of our shoes; “our reasoning brain is weak, and our tongue is weaker still” (Saint Basil); a family of five having a picnic up ahead; a flock of birds swooping on the ground; a man on his knees wiping away the years from a headrest; two women walking their dogs; a little boy throwing rocks into space; my brother-in-law remembering his wife who left five days ago; “the valley of dry bones” (Ezek 37); Church of England Section; Roman Catholic Section; Interdenominational Section; Burial of Saint Lucy Caravaggio; Death and Life Gustav Klimt; The First Mourning William-Adolphe Bouguereau; John Kelly died 11th June 1918, Aged 64 Years; Mary Kenny died 19th September 1903, Aged 59 Years; James John Quinn died 2nd April 1965, Aged 84 Years; “Christ is Risen from the dead”; “if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (Jn 11:21); “In the place of Your rest, O Lord, Where all Your Saints repose, Give rest also to the soul of Your Servant, For You alone are immortal” (Trisagion for the Dead); The Messenger Linkin Park; Pente Ellines ston Adi Eleni Vitali; Hurt Johnny Cash; “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil” (Ps 23); this walk is doing the both of us some good; the rain is holding off; the cold invigorates the flesh; “Sweet heart of Jesus, be my love”; “loved and never forgotten”; “much loved by her family”; the general priesthood of all believers; “I believe in the resurrection of the dead” (from The Creed); make sure to note the personal pronoun; “time is constantly pressing upon us” (Schopenhauer); forty years ago I could run up these hills without breaking a sweat; now I reminisce of past centuries; “and one minute closer to death” (Pink Floyd); tonight for you alone I will burn a thousand candles; life is to be lived with joy and compassion; there is no contradiction between particle and wave; Mother loves to fold paper boats; she tells me it is what her Father did; Origami and history of paper folding; here take a sip of water; can we go now; we are always leaving, my boy; “beloved son”; “our loving mother”; “my dear husband”; the car park is emptying; a small truck overflowing with building supplies; the family of five are heading off; an elderly lady with a yellow overcoat arranging flowers; a middle-aged man with shorts looking up into the sky; like Noah waiting for the rain to fall; there are things I cannot tell you yet; Marjorie Simpson died April 1st 1999, Aged 83 Years; Patrick Richard Cronin died 30th August 1948, Aged 69 Years; Elsa Lily Rigby died 22nd December 2003, Aged 91 Years; Battle of the Teutoburg Forest; Battle of Bull Run; Battle of Crucifix Hill; “O Captain! My Captain! Rise up and hear the bells” (Walt Whitman); “And you as well must die, beloved dust, And all your beauty stand you in no stead” (Edna St. Vincent Millay); “Death arrives among all that sound like a shoe with no foot in it” (Pablo Neruda); step left then right; kick that stone to the side; things need to be made straight; 12… 1234… 12; anterior cingulate and orbitofrontal cortices; Billy’s ‘Pop’ William Miller rests here waiting for the bell; specks of brown earth in our hair; strands of grass caught on the tips of our shoes; windcheaters flutter like butterfly wings; dear Lord allow for our son’s shoulder to heal well; “There is no blissful peace until one passes beyond the agony of life and death” (Buddha); I would like a plot here; please not Botany; check online for availability; my jaw still hurts a lot; you will always be remembered Genevieve R.; Brahms’ Triumphlied (Op. 55); Arvo Pärt’s Tabula Rasa; Mozart’s Requiem Mass in D Minor; it is mental grammar which allows us to communicate; linguistics was a very difficult subject; music is above and beyond grammar; Scherzo great blocks of accelerating beats; pulsating with irresistible power; “Dance until you shatter yourself” (Rumi); life and death in the search engine; Liberation Through Hearing Bardo Thodol; what comes after; whatever it is which proceeds from human consciousness; the ever-present theme from MASH; please, don’t do it, not today; “the wound is the place where the Light enters you” (Rumi); the flesh returns to the earth; Marc Alexander Hunter died July 17th 1998, Aged 45 years; Carmel Therese Matthews died 11th January 2013, Aged 80 Years; Jeremiah Hanrahan died 18th August 1882, Aged 50 Years; Michael John Harding died 21st November 1953, Aged 62 Years; Kathleen Mary Bergin died 30th January 1942, Aged 74 Years; native seed; citrus caterpillar; star burst; “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more” (Apoc 21:4); I saw death for the first time in Piraeus Port; the old man next door with the crook handle walking stick; black dresses intermingling with bright candle light; Hannah Noble died 15th August 1911, Aged 63 Years; Derek Graham Clarke Wishart died 24th January 1991, Aged 27 Years (‘Surveyor and Fisherman’); Lillian Ida Chittick died 15th June 1993, Aged 86 Years; on the news the deluge continues; John Milton’s Paradise Lost; Alighieri Dante’s The Divine ComedySaint John Chrysostom’s Paschal Sermon; the listeners are waiting; ubiquitous surveillance does not equate with omnipresence; it never will; huge tears over graves; like snowflakes no teardrop is ever the same; we wash our eyes; angels flying diamond kites; black opal; alexandrite; “a true gentleman”; “a bud in heaven”; “she, now, has met her rest”; here I have always been at peace; “You would know the secret of death. But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life?” (Khalil Gibran); Moonlight Sonata “Let me go there with you” (Yiannis Ritsos); “and somewhere, each of us must help the other die” (Adrienne Rich); time to go home now, George; we never were too far away

http://www.abc.net.au/local/stories/2014/10/10/4104454.htm

http://www.illawarramercury.com.au/story/2580127/gerringong-cemetery-history-to-be-brought-to-life/

Realizing the divine within

Gerringong, NSW

One of the great deceptions of our automated world, where people as well as perishable goods are earmarked with an expiry date, is the dreadful lie of the easy path to peace and enlightenment. These two ways are invariably sold and packaged together. The reality is more sobering and gut-wrenching. Most of us know, as if by an inborn instinct, there are no short-cuts to realizing the divine within. For some of us this struggle to realize our potential and come to terms with our “faith seeking understanding” will take many years, if not decades. Anselm knew well what he was talking about with his famous motto fides quaerens intellectum.[1] In other words, “an active love of God seeking a deeper knowledge of God.” And even after having arrived at this “good place”, where we have touched upon some little understanding, the struggle does not end. No one can fight this most important of battles for us; we are alone to work our way through the darkness until we come across one or two shards of blazing light. That is, until we go to sleep one fateful night knowing and believing we would suffer it all again...  All of it… to be at the place where we are at that very moment, when it seemed the heavens opened up for us alone that we might catch a glimpse of our true name: “…and on the white stone is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it” (Rev. 2:17).  

There is no hidden secret to peace and enlightenment. If there are any secrets, they are evident ones we all discern and attempt to put into practice knowing in our hearts the truth is stumbling upon us rather than the other way round. Gratia urget nos, “grace presses on us”. There is a mystic in each one of us: we have all prayed, or have been dazzled by the stars, or have wept to music. The search for peace itself is mystical at its core. The problem is though these ‘secrets’ are plain enough to see, it is very difficult to consistently put them into practice. These universal truths, sagacious and sensible lessons, have been freely given to us and put down in writing by the wisdom teachers of our collective spiritual tradition. I lived by these few simple but life-altering lessons for many years until without realizing, I gradually abandoned them as I became immersed in the games and intrigues of the world. When I did begin to understand once more, it was almost too late. I thought that “I” knew better and tried to resolve the suffering in my life on my own terms. This is one of the fundamental mistakes which normally goes by the name of pride and is particularly dangerous for a religious who believes they are practising humility. Of course, there is and will be, that right moment when it seems the great resolution has come, but pride would make us blind to the fact that there are strong forces, even on the outside of ourselves, which influence our decision making and can often determine the journey ahead. These ‘strong forces’, opportunity or chance for instance, cannot be ignored nor can they be underestimated for they are always there. This interplay between the self and the outside is like the flesh and sinews which wrap around the bones of the living.

Everything which was good and peaceful in my life revolved around detachment, for example, making an effort to remain unaffected by either praise or criticism. Detachment is not indifference. [2] It is neither apathy nor absence; it is a dignified and quiet presence. It is from this place of stillness and self-control that most favourable things will flow. I will talk again about these lessons later, but they do revolve around three things: love, humility, and self-knowledge. Above all else self-sacrificing love. “Love, and do what you will” are the famous if not scandalous words of Saint Augustine.[3] But what he really is saying, that everything we do, should find its first cause in love: our silence, our tears, and even all that from which we refrain. Those who genuinely experience and participate in this communion of Love are incapable of causing intentional hurt to others. Admittedly, these are idealistic words and few of us will know what it is like to live wholeheartedly by their creed. Yet whatever our weakness or frailty, it should not exclude or discourage us from sharing in the ancient wisdom of such timeless revelations which have from the beginning been disclosed to the heart.[4] In the Gospels the “heart” is where both “good” and “evil” can be stored up (Lk 6:45) and it is the organ of our spiritual and moral cognisance (Mk 2:6-8). This is typical of spiritual literature and emblematic of the universal comprehension of the heart as the place of the subconscious, and seat of the emotions, passions, and appetites.

One of the enduringly hard questions for those interested in the religious experience of humankind[5] has been: why does it seem that the great religious traditions lead us on different, if not often times diametrically opposing paths. Is not all of this hopelessly misleading for our spirit, and can it not ‘twist’ us out of shape? I will not pretend to know the answer. All I can do is to share something of my own response as I have grappled with the question over many years and after having sat at the feet of some wonderful teachers. In my personal encounters with these wise men and women from both the desert and the city, I could not help but observe a discernible parallel in the philosophy of how “good religion” is both understood and practised. I was profoundly excited by this “discovery” for though it was certainly no hidden secret and it is there in plain print in our wisdom literature, it is a lesson that will not come easy. It is for the individual soul to wrestle with the revelation. None of this belongs entirely to the imaginary realm, but it is real like a deep cut to the flesh or the sharp sting of a red pepper on the tongue.     

[1] Saint Anselm’s Proslogion, Preface.

[2] If you wish to explore “detachment” at the profoundly deeper level and its connection to apatheia [‘passionlessness’ or ‘dispassion’] then please see: Anthony M. Coniaris, A Beginner’s Introduction to the Philokalia, (Light & Life, USA, 2004).

[3] In Epist. Joann. Tractatus, vii, 8.

[4] John Climacus: From the Egyptian Desert to the Sinaite Mountain, John Chryssavgis, [Chapter 3 Kardia: The Heart], (Ashgate, England, 2004).

[5] Ninian Smart, The Religious Experience of Mankind, (Scribner, New York, 1984).