The Spirit of Old Age – Pentecost 2016


The Spirit of Old Age – Pentecost 2016

Our hearing goes as years grow old and God
speaks to our hearts in bracing ways and still
God reaches out like fire to lightning rod
to defibrillate deaf hearts, re-set will.

The spoken Word is void and hearing’s sense
has lost its power to move and renovate.
In old age the calm centre flares intense
In inner fire comes Spirit advocate.

The Word has become a perilous false guide
in querulous senility sounds blurred,
trust God not the ear, and be satisfied
when experience matches the remembered Word!

Persist in the tension of paradox,
the Word can appraise the true orthodox.

– Ted Witham 2016

 

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Campfire – courtesy Koora Retreat Centre, Western Australia

 

 

Psalm 104 for Sandgropers


Bless the Lord, O my soul!
O Lord my God, you are very great!
You are clothed with splendour and majesty,
covering yourself with light as with an overcoat,
stretching out the heavens like a deep blue dome.
He lays cloud-streets as rafter beams for the sky;
he makes cumulus clouds his chariot;
he rides on the wings of the wind;
he makes his messengers winds,
he makes his ministers a flaming fire.

He set the earth on its foundations,
so that it should never be moved.
You covered it with the deep waters like a cloak;
the waters stood above the mountains.
At your rebuke they fled;
at the sound of your thunder they took to flight.
The mountains rose, the valleys sank down
to the place that you appointed for them.
You set a boundary that they may not pass,
so that they might not again cover the earth.

You make springs gush forth in the valleys;
they flow between the hills;
they give drink to every animal in the wild;
the wallabies quench their thirst.
Beside them live the magpies;
they sing carols among the branches.
From your lofty home  you water the mountains;
the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work.

You make grass to grow for the livestock
and plants for people to cultivate,
that they may bring forth food from the earth
and wine to gladden people’s hearts,
olive oil to make their face shine
and bread to strengthen their hearts.

The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly,
the great karri trees of the south-west that he planted.
In them the birds build their nests;
the wedgetail has her home in the great gum trees.
The high mountains are for the mygalomorph spiders;
the rocks are a refuge for the skinks.

He made the moon to mark the seasons;
the sun knows its time for setting.
You make darkness, and it is night,
when all the wild animals creep about.
The dingoes howl for their prey,
seeking their food from God.
When the sun rises, they steal away
and lie down in their dens.

People go out to their work
and to their labour until the evening.

O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom have you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
Here is the sea, great and wide,
which teems with creatures innumerable,
living things both small and great.
There go the cruise ships,
and the blue whale, which you formed as your playmate.

These all look to you,
to give them their food in due season.
When you give it to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
when you take away their breath, they die
and return to their dust.
When you send forth your Spirit, they are created,
and you renew the face of the ground.

May the glory of the Lord endure forever;
may the Lord rejoice in his works,
who looks on the earth and it trembles,
who touches the Stirlings and the mist moves on the mountains!1
I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.
May my meditation be pleasing to him,
for I rejoice in the Lord.
Bless the Lord, O my soul!
Praise the Lord!

 

Translation ESV (http://www.esvbible.org/)

1 The Aboriginal (Noongar) name for the Stirling Ranges means “The mist moving on the mountains”.

 

 

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Wedgetail eagle nest – Photo courtesy Jill Sampson bimbleboxartproject.com

 

 

 

 

Burial at Sea


Burial at Sea

She went on the boat, the toddler Aliya,
an act of love and desperation,
beginning the middle passage of risk and fear,
from war-torn country to wealthy free nation.

They stand in a ring and pray,
the parents, the uncles, the old friends,
they squeeze tight to produce the way
for Aliya to fight through to good ends.

They thought it was better, this boat,
not crowded, not corrupted, not bad,
safely able to cross Europe’s wide moat,
Thus farewells were confident and sad.

Aliya was soon alone, pushed into the hold
of a forty-foot boat with ninety aboard,
the hull, the frame, the motor all old,
no food, no toilet, naught aboveboard.

All around the headache-making stench
of dieseline and human waste and sick,
men groan, women cry, Aliya can clench
her eyes against foul air so thick.

This the middle passage – you must know now
that migrants and crew have been jettisoned.
Peristaltic waves rock Aliya, bitter winds blow,
Motor falters, death has been commissioned.

Little Aliya is quiet. No food for three whole days,
She slips away, a pilgrim to paradise,
her middle passage a satanic maze
She comes to its end a tiny sacrifice.

It’s rough. There’s no one close to grieve.
She’s shrouded. Prayers are said. Blessing and peace
and the Prophet’s words give leave
to the little corpse as it slides beneath the seas.

While in Beirut or Bath they count their US dollars.

  • Ted Witham 2016

 

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Photo courtesy Mirror.co.uk

 

Isaiah 42 for Western Australia


Thus says God, the Lord,
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people on it
and spirit to those who walk in it:

6  “I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness;
I will take you by the hand and keep you;
I will give you as a covenant for the people,
a light for the nations,

7  to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness.

8  I am the Lord; that is my name;
my glory I give to no other,
nor my praise to carved idols.

9  Behold, the former things have come to pass,
and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth
I tell you of them.”

10  Sing to the Lord a new song,
his praise from one side of Australia to the other,
you who go down to the Indian Ocean, and its leviathan surf,
you who explore the wave-carved gaps and blow-holes of Torndirrup National Park.

11  Let the Sandy Desert and places up north raise their voice,
the towns of the Great Western Woodlands cry out to God;
let the wild-flowers of the  south-west sing for joy,
let the climbers shout from the top of the Stirling Ranges.

12  Let us give glory to the Lord,
and declare his praise in Geographe Bay.

– Isaiah 42:5-12 based on ESV

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The Great Western Woodlands

 

Why the Resurrection is not a Metaphor


The kiss

Two pairs of lips approach and make contact. A dry sensakissingtion soon melts into a warm moist pressure which sets off a reaction throughout the bodies of the owners of each pair of lips. There are changes in core temperature, heart-rate, perspiration. There may be increased blood-flow to genitals and our bodies remind us that we are priority-programmed to reproduce. Hormone levels change: cortisol goes down, reducing stress, oxytocin levels rise, increasing feelings of closeness and intimacy.

Then, at a level that scientists can’t measure, for some of those people, the kiss will affirm the quality of their relationship, will inspire their love, and they will remember the sacramental love at the heart of their life together, and God as its source.

Much more happens, physiologically, emotionally and globally, every time we kiss, far too much to compress into two paragraphs.

Rae and I make a point of kissing every morning and night, and every time we part and meet. For us, this ritual is essential to keeping our marriage alive; not the only essential, but one which we value highly.  I know of many couples for whom kissing is likewise a serious business.

When we say kissing is important, the statement is literally true. But an alien seeing two people kiss might wonder how the pressing together of pairs of lips is valued by earthlings! If you only see the obvious and visible event, you may distort the wider truth.

reverence

I read recently the phrase: ‘of course preaching the resurrection as metaphor’. This drew me up short.

Some years ago I was asked to preach and address the question: ‘Did Jesus rise in body or spirit?’ I disappointed by answering in the affirmative. Yes, I said, Jesus rose in body and in spirit.[My notoriously liberal host was hoping I would reject the notion of Jesus’ bodily resurrection!]

The shorthand for the central article of our faith might be ‘Jesus rose from the dead’. ‘Jesus rose from the dead’ is true. Some require acquiescence to that statement as proof of orthodoxy. But that is like the alien looking at the kiss. It is true. But by itself it distorts the truth and can become a lie. It is true only in a larger context.

We ‘progressive’ Christians are often rather smug about how intelligently we avoid the narrow focus of the fundamentalist. But however we describe the resurrection of Jesus Christ, metaphor is inaccurate, belittling and close to heresy.

When Jesus Christ rose from the dead, in the deepest structures of creation there were deep changes that we now only just glimpse (Romans 8:21, Colossians 1:10-16). The invisible powers that poison human society were neutralised (Ephesians 6:12). The life of Jesus of Nazareth was revealed as a far-reaching liberating plan that transcends his place and time. The heart-beat and love of God are uncovered and our true identity as his children is seen.

Much more, much more has happened and is happening, that will take eternity to explore.

These may be mysteries, but they are not metaphors. The kiss could be a metaphor for the resurrection. The resurrection is God’s kiss of life.

 

 

First Notes of the New World


An Easter sonnet for my friends who are musicians and poets:

First Sprung from the Dead

The cloth which yesterday so reverently kept
our Lord’s head, is today lying by itself;
the shroud appears like the bed where he has slept,
pillow face cloth arranged on the rock shelf.

The tomb is ordered, the Paschal setting
is not a wild off-planet getaway:
the presence who has folded the netting
has artfully followed the Passion Play.

Easter’s presence/absence on limestone set
covered in the linen weave of white cloth,
powerful mystery in quietest calm yet:
Life bursts from silent Yahweh Sabaoth.

The folded cloth, the ordered tomb resound.
The living Jesus in measured singing found.

  • John 20:1-14
  • empty-tomb-good-evidence

Education in Christian Character and the Dean


First published in the Anglican Messenger, March 2016.

Nearly every week from 1938 to 1972, an elegant lady clutching a music case caught a tram from Perth College. The tram trundled down Beaufort Street to the ABC then situated in the Stirling Institute buildings in the Supreme Court gardens. Dorothea Angus, Head of Music at Perth College made over 250 broadcasts for the ABC performing solo, as well as with contralto Phyllis Everett and violinist Vaughan Hanly. She played concerti with the WA Symphony Orchestra, for example under Henry Krips, Mozart’s A major piano concerto (K488).

Her night-time performances followed a long day of teaching from 7.30 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. and a practice hour until 5 p.m.

She preferred to perform Australian composers like Miriam Hyde. As a star student in Adelaide’s Elder Conservatorium she had made a compact with Hyde and other fellow-students to exchange new compositions. With advance access to Sydney-based composer Dulcie Holland’s piano music, Dorothea encouraged her students to learn Australian music for their exams.

But much more than that, Dorothea instilled in the girls at Perth College a love of music. With the WA Symphony Orchestra established properly in the 1950s, Miss Angus began a Friday night tradition of bussing girls to concerts. I was with the boarders in 1975 as they went wild for WASO’s rendition of Sibelius’ ‘Finlandia’!

Dorothea opened up a bigger world up for her students. In the classroom she talked about music around Australia, and she introduced a world expressed in beauty and art. Her own person, always elegant and fashionable, impressed the girls. The stylish Miss Angus was a fascinating contrast to the Sisters dressed always in habit, veil and wimple.

Dorothea was not a straightforward Christian. In her previous appointment in Adelaide at St Peter’s Cathedral her talents as a world-class organist appear to have been eclipsed by the internal politics of male chauvinism. When I met Dorothea towards the end of her life, I found her always willing to engage in a robust and sceptical discussion about Christian faith. She was deeply interested in it but unable to admit to a commitment to it.

At Perth College, Sister Rosalie, the Principal, often crept into Dorothea’s practice room to enjoy her playing. I can imagine her friendship with Sister Rosalie included similar discussions.

‘Gus’ or ‘Fungi’, as Miss Angus was called, is still remembered with affection by former Perth College students nearly 40 years after her death. A half-dozen still meet annually to salute her memory.

Dorothea championed Australian music to the public. As an artist, she felt a responsibility to share generously her gift with the school and the church. When I met Dorothea she was playing hymns for services in Balga Parish despite a paralysis in her left arm. Her disability frustrated her. She could easily have excused herself, but would not.

To Perth College she brought not just music skills, but education in character. Through her own forceful personality, she modelled character. She opened a wider world to the girls in her care. She chewed into Christian faith, examining it, discerning the truth for herself. Agnostic she may have been, but her respect for Christianity was imprinted on those she met.

I am more optimistic than the Dean, who argued in the December Messenger that church schools were failing in their central task of Christian formation (he and I have been chaplains to the same two church schools!) I believe that our church schools have been deeply enriched by teachers of integrity and longevity – like Miss Angus – who have imbued Christian character in their students.

*****

An article focusing more on Dorothea Angus’ musical achievements appeared in the December 2015/January 2016 issue of Limelight magazine.