Out of Good Friday, Easter

Threat of fire looming,
adrenalin flowing,
fear rising,
towering clouds of smoke enveloping,
fight or flight decisions.

Picture1

Then, late one night,
roaring in the darkness,
fire hit, walls of flame descending,
people fearful for their very lives,
red tongues devouring flora, fauna, property.

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Locals, soon to be heroes,
fighting rearguard actions
in extreme conditions.

03 P2281852 'Thank You', W Tree, Feb 28, '20.JPG

Then, dwelling in the aftermath,
immersed in devastation, destruction, death,
homes, memories, livelihoods shattered:

04 P1250743 Family Home Destroyed.JPG

smoke choking, colour gone,
blackness,
ashes on the ground,
falling from the skies,
washed up on beaches,
eerie silence enveloping.
Adrenalin, still coursing through,
energising, exhausting bodies.

05 P1150513 Smoky Landscape, Sarsfield, Jan 15, '20.JPG

As people meet,
‘It’s so good to see you!’
passionate, heartfelt embracing of one another …

06 PC052003 Embrace.JPG

Wondering,
living with, fighting,
a myriad of feelings.
Questions arise.
Difficult questions.
Demanding questions.
Unanswerable questions.

07 Sun through Smoke Apr 21, '09 010.jpg

How do I go on living?
How do we recover?
When there seems no road ahead,
which way to turn?
Where is God in this?

There is a thin line between fear and faith,
between anxiety and trust.

People come,
people speak,
handshakes offered,
not always reciprocated.
Promises made.
Will they be fulfilled?
Will there be listening?
Will ways forward be found?
Recovery, healing?

09 P2261691 Death & Life, Gelantipy, Feb 26, '20.JPG

Activity all round,
sites cleared,
destruction cleared,
roads cleared,
hearts racing,
minds cluttered, chaotic.

10 P2171382 Clearing Princes Highway.JPG

A barbeque is held
people gather.
Sausages cooked, devoured;
and a glass or two
amid much conversation,
the sharing of stories.
Community re-formed, strengthened.
(There will be countless sausage sizzles
in the weeks and months ahead.)

11 BBQ Labertouche Apr 9, '09 017.jpg

At the Relief Centre,
tears are shed,
relief etched on faces
as there is listening
to stories told:
as compassion is shared.
Are such interactions
meetings on holy ground?

12 Meeting on Holy Ground Apr 9, '09 024.jpg

One man,
overwhelmed by his holocaust of fire,
the devastation, and enormity of recovery,
is immobilised.
‘There is too much to do.
I don’t know where to start’.
Another, after listening with intent, suggested
‘Choose one thing,
Focus on it …
When that is done,
Choose one more’.

Some time later,
they met again,
on site.
The One
expressed his gratitude,
‘The small steps approach is working’.
The Another
could see it in the work achieved
and in the countenance before him:
transformed.
Was the God in One
meeting the God in Another?
Was the God in Another
meeting the God in One?

After the fires, rain came,
rain fell, over 100 mils of it,
saturating the soil.
Days later,
the earth gave forth its produce,
as shoots of grass emerged.

13 P1240589 Life returns after rain, Sarsfield, Jan 24, '20 large.JPG

Green grass …
To blackened environments,
the colour, returning,
transfigured the land
as well as many singed hearts and minds.
Spirits lifted.
Was this resurrection?

14 P2171301 Is this resurrection.JPG

In one rural area,
as two people spoke,
a woman, suddenly distracted,
averted her eyes
as she looked beyond her companion,
crying tears of joy and relief:
‘Eric! He’s alive!
He’s come back!
We thought he was dead’.

There,
scampering across the paddock,
was Eric, the echidna.
‘We thought he was dead’.

15 P1220525 Eric, Windsor Drive Echidna.JPG

‘My dams have been empty for three years.
Look now!
They’re overflowing!
What a sight for sore eyes!’

16 P1230570 130ml rain fills the dam, Sarsfield, Jan 23, '20.JPG

After days of deathly silence,
birds returning:
kookaburra, magpie,
black cockatoo, rainbow lorikeet,
their songs ringing through the air:
a joy-filled cachophany of sound.
What a chorus!
What colour!
What life!

17 P2130940 Rainbow Lorikeet.JPG

And, out of the desolation,
the beginnings of new life,
greens, reds, blues, browns,
many colours,
the exuberance of nature’s recovery,
– what naturalists call epicormic growth –
breaking through blackness:
emerging from the trunks of trees.
Easter rising from Creation’s Good Friday.

Could it be that, like nature,
out of our struggles and traumas,
new life emerges in we humans?
Could it be that God’s presence
is in literally every thing and every one?
… the Divine Presence in us and in all creation?
… the source of our hope?
Could it be …?

20 P2271805 Regrowth, Buchan Ridge, Feb 27, '20.JPG

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Alan Mathews is a retired Uniting Church minister with a passion for photography and discovering life in everyday moments. In these days of social isolation, he enjoys playing with words and images; and with the ‘doors’ they open. He lives, works, and plays on Boonwurrung land.

Collects in a Time of Virus – V

God of the harried,
Help us in the tension of these days,
for we are crushed by too many tasks,
nervous of new skills and tools in the too-much of this moment.
May we give heed without collapse,
restore our trust in longer spans of time – beyond the urgency of now.

 

Collect by Julie Perrin, published with permission.

Photograph by Ian Ferguson, published with permission.

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JULIE PERRIN IS A MELBOURNE WRITER, ORAL STORYTELLER, AND ASSOCIATE TEACHER AT PILGRIM THEOLOGICAL COLLEGE, UNIVERSITY OF DIVINITY. SHE KEEPS A WEBSITE, AND HER MOST RECENT BOOK IS TENDER. SHE LIVES AND WORKS ON WURUNDJERI LAND.
IAN FERGUSON IS MINISTER OF THE WORD AT BRUNSWICK UNITING CHURCH. HE TOO LIVES AND WORKS ON WURUNDJERI LAND.

Collects in a Time of Virus – IV

Holy One who fears no fracture,
Lend your clarity to us for we are full of fear.
Already the abyss appears
Cracks in the earth, shifts in the ground we took for granted,
Now there is rupture
We do not trust our capacity to live.
That which is holy, divine, beyond us
frightens and allures us.
Call us to the mystery of the holy.

God of the despondent,
Who sees our tiredness at futile effort
Who knows that fear breeds phantoms,
help us we pray.
We are weary, and everywhere we turn
another impediment rises.
Our shoulders sag, the breath goes out of us.
In this stripped-back bareness, give us breath,
May we delight in our humanity, meet holiness anew.

Collects by Julie Perrin, published with permission.

Photographs by Ian Ferguson, published with permission.

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JULIE PERRIN IS A MELBOURNE WRITER, ORAL STORYTELLER, AND ASSOCIATE TEACHER AT PILGRIM THEOLOGICAL COLLEGE, UNIVERSITY OF DIVINITY. SHE KEEPS A WEBSITE, AND HER MOST RECENT BOOK IS TENDER. SHE LIVES AND WORKS ON WURUNDJERI LAND.
IAN FERGUSON IS MINISTER OF THE WORD AT BRUNSWICK UNITING CHURCH. HE TOO LIVES AND WORKS ON WURUNDJERI LAND.

Collects in a Time of Virus – III

God of Shadows,
give shelter to hollow, shaken humans
bewildered by sudden closure.
Sturdy structures shattered, hopeful trade ended,
meaningful work gone.
In the shocking silence where nothing can be said,
let birdsong be heard.

 

Collect by Julie Perrin, published with permission.

Photograph by Ian Ferguson, published with permission.

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JULIE PERRIN IS A MELBOURNE WRITER, ORAL STORYTELLER, AND ASSOCIATE TEACHER AT PILGRIM THEOLOGICAL COLLEGE, UNIVERSITY OF DIVINITY. SHE KEEPS A WEBSITE, AND HER MOST RECENT BOOK IS TENDER. SHE LIVES AND WORKS ON WURUNDJERI LAND.
IAN FERGUSON IS MINISTER OF THE WORD AT BRUNSWICK UNITING CHURCH. HE TOO LIVES AND WORKS ON WURUNDJERI LAND.

Collects in a Time of Virus – II

Brooding God,
Who hovers over the waters,
Remain with us, for we are stranded on tiny islands of fear.
Draw a circle around our solitude,
hold us back from bringing danger to ourselves and others.
And where touch can no longer reach,
let love spin light across dark waters,
a thread of sweetness for small songs we might sing.

God who speaks the word ‘Beloved’
Keep watch on those who give voice to care,
Who speak trenchant truths,
explaining, instructing and chiding without blame.
Let us hear the warmth and strength in voices that stir response
and nourish hope in thoughtful action.
Give us ears to listen without fear.

God of the frail in body and mind,
be a companion in loneliness,
a consolation in absence,
a balm in mystified sorrow.
When doors, through fierce kindness must stay shut
Let love arise in memory of gesture and embrace.

 

Collects by Julie Perrin, published with permission.

Photographs by Ian Ferguson, published with permission.

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JULIE PERRIN IS A MELBOURNE WRITER, ORAL STORYTELLER, AND ASSOCIATE TEACHER AT PILGRIM THEOLOGICAL COLLEGE, UNIVERSITY OF DIVINITY. SHE KEEPS A WEBSITE, AND HER MOST RECENT BOOK IS TENDER. SHE LIVES AND WORKS ON WURUNDJERI LAND.
IAN FERGUSON IS MINISTER OF THE WORD AT BRUNSWICK UNITING CHURCH. HE TOO LIVES AND WORKS ON WURUNDJERI LAND.

Collects in a Time of Virus – I

The Melbourne-based writer Julie Perrin, a regular contributor to the ATA site, has been writing a series of collects during and for this time. Julie has given us permission to repost them here, and we will do so throughout Holy Week.

These will be accompanied by some wonderful photography by Ian Ferguson, photos taken over the past 6 weeks while he has been in East Gippsland. Images are used with permission.

Those interested in audio/video recordings of the collects, as well as other COVID-19 worship resources, can access these via the Uniting Church Synod of Victoria and Tasmania website.

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God of those who are numbed,
stunned by loss,
enfold us in a gentle darkness,
a hidden sleep, a long stillness.
Re-member us to ourselves
awaken the courage we’d forgotten we had.

God who knows chaos
Who creates in darkness,
makes life from mud.
Give us back to ourselves
dissolved and helpless
may we feel ourselves forming
know our own shape.

Fierce Lover of life,
give strength to our arms and our resolve.
Critical is this time for cleaning, swabbing, scrubbing
and washing our hands again.
And again, and again.
Let us join ourselves to the task
with readiness, steadiness, clarity.
Because we too love life,
our own and our neighbour’s.

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JULIE PERRIN IS A MELBOURNE WRITER, ORAL STORYTELLER, AND ASSOCIATE TEACHER AT PILGRIM THEOLOGICAL COLLEGE, UNIVERSITY OF DIVINITY. SHE KEEPS A WEBSITE, AND HER MOST RECENT BOOK IS TENDER. SHE LIVES AND WORKS ON WURUNDJERI LAND.
IAN FERGUSON IS MINISTER OF THE WORD AT BRUNSWICK UNITING CHURCH. HE TOO LIVES AND WORKS ON WURUNDJERI LAND.

 

Is now the time to make art?

What kind of time is this? And what might such a time mean for artists and their work?

Beyond the very real financial hit that many artists are currently taking, a great many of us, artists included, are welcoming this abnormal moment to ask other questions – existential questions, and questions about our regular habits and commitments, for example. It is suggested that to try to carry on with business as usual, however tempting and well-intentioned that might be, would be to forego a rare opportunity to reimagine and re-embody other modes of our living. Others are turning to all kinds of creative endeavours. Others still – including artists – are asking whether now is really the time to make art at all?

Of course, we’ve been here before. This is hardly the first time in our history that such questions have been asked.

In the aftermath of WWII, where the dominating backdrop was clearly otherwise than it is today, the philosopher Theodor Adorno, in his Negative Dialectics, raised the question of whether the traumas of Auschwitz mean that ‘we cannot say anymore than the immutable is truth, and that the mobile, transitory is appearance’. It is not, he insisted, a case of an impossibility of distinguishing between eternal truth and temporary appearances (Plato and Hegel had already showed us how that could be done); it’s just that one cannot do so post-Auschwitz without making a sheer mockery of the fact:

After Auschwitz, our feelings resist any claim of the positivity of existence as sanctimonious, as wronging the victims: they balk at squeezing any kind of sense, however bleached, out of the victims’ fate. And these feelings do have an objective side after events that make a mockery of the construction of immanence as endowed with a meaning radiated by an affirmatively posited transcendence.

Put more plainly, our emotional responses to horrors of such magnitude ought to outweigh all our attempts to explain them. It was this conviction too that led Adorno to state famously (in his essay ‘Art, Culture and Society’) that ‘to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric’, and that ‘the task of art today is to bring chaos into order’. The line between explanation and intelligibility has been severed. In the wake of such, we are left with the possibility of Adorno’s ‘negative theodicy’, a kind of theodicy in which the old intellectual and philosophical distance is impossible. If we are to make any headway at all in recognizing how the Nazi death camps succeeded in the destruction of biographical life, and reorientate our thinking in response, Adorno argues, we must learn how to regard Auschwitz as the culmination of a trajectory embedded in the history of western culture in the wake of the Enlightenment. In other words, there can be no genuine acknowledgement of the Holocaust that does not begin with the realization that ‘we did it’.

Today, our questions may be otherwise. For some of us – for those, for example, trying to discern (or create) lines between unbridled capitalism, ecological disaster, and global pandemics – perhaps they are not so.

In his latest post for The Red Hand Files, musician Nick Cave responds to a series of questions about his own plans for this time during the corona pandemic. His reflection is worth repeating here in full:

Dear Alice, Henry and Saskia,

My response to a crisis has always been to create. This impulse has saved me many times – when things got bad I’d plan a tour, or write a book, or make a record – I’d hide myself in work, and try to stay one step ahead of whatever it was that was pursuing me. So, when it became clear that The Bad Seeds would have to postpone the European tour and that I would have, at the very least, three months of sudden spare time, my mind jumped into overdrive with ideas of how to fill that space. On a video call with my team we threw ideas around – stream a solo performance from my home, write an isolation album, write an online corona diary, write an apocalyptic film script, create a pandemic playlist on Spotify, start an online reading club, answer Red Hand Files questions live online, stream a songwriting tutorial, or a cooking programme, etc. – all with the aim to keep my creative momentum going, and to give my self-isolating fans something to do.

That night, as I contemplated these ideas, I began to think about what I had done in the last three months – working with Warren and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, planning and mounting a massive and incredibly complex Nick Cave exhibition with the Royal Danish Library, putting together the Stranger Than Kindness book, working on an updated edition of my “Collected Lyrics”, developing the show for the Ghosteen world tour (which, by the way, will be fucking mind-blowing if we ever get to do it!), working on a second B Sides and Rarities record and, of course, reading and writing The Red Hand Files. As I sat there in bed and reflected, another thought presented itself, clear and wondrous and humane –

Why is this the time to get creative?

Together we have stepped into history and are now living inside an event unprecedented in our lifetime. Every day the news provides us with dizzying information that a few weeks before would have been unthinkable. What deranged and divided us a month ago seems, at best, an embarrassment from an idle and privileged time. We have become eyewitnesses to a catastrophe that we are seeing unfold from the inside out. We are forced to isolate – to be vigilant, to be quiet, to watch and contemplate the possible implosion of our civilisation in real time. When we eventually step clear of this moment we will have discovered things about our leaders, our societal systems, our friends, our enemies and most of all, ourselves. We will know something of our resilience, our capacity for forgiveness, and our mutual vulnerability. Perhaps, it is a time to pay attention, to be mindful, to be observant.

As an artist, it feels inapt to miss this extraordinary moment. Suddenly, the acts of writing a novel, or a screenplay or a series of songs seem like indulgences from a bygone era. For me, this is not a time to be buried in the business of creating. It is a time to take a backseat and use this opportunity to reflect on exactly what our function is – what we, as artists, are for.

Saskia, there are other forms of engagement, open to us all. An email to a distant friend, a phone call to a parent or sibling, a kind word to a neighbour, a prayer for those working on the front lines. These simple gestures can bind the world together – throwing threads of love here and there, ultimately connecting us all – so that when we do emerge from this moment we are unified by compassion, humility and a greater dignity. Perhaps, we will also see the world through different eyes, with an awakened reverence for the wondrous thing that it is. This could, indeed, be the truest creative work of all.

Love, Nick x

Like Cave, Adorno too challenges us to ‘take a backseat and use this opportunity to reflect on exactly what our function is – what we, as artists, are for’ – and to lean into ‘other forms of engagement’ that such uncertain and time-altering times render (almost) unavoidable. It is certainly a time to consider our responsibility to and involvement in all kinds of violence, for example.

But is this the only or final word on the matter? Returning to Adorno and his book Minima Moralia: Reflections on Damaged Life, he suggests that:

The only philosophy which can be responsibly practiced in face of despair is the attempt to contemplate all things as they would present themselves from the standpoint of redemption. Knowledge has no light but that shed on the world by redemption: all else is reconstruction, mere technique. Perspectives must be fashioned that displace and estrange the world, reveal it to be, with its rifts and crevices, as indigent and distorted as it will appear one day in the messianic light. To gain such perspectives without velleity [fancy] or violence, entirely from felt contact with its objects ­– this alone is the task of thought.

Is not what might be true for ‘philosophy’ and ‘thought’ not also true for art? Redemption, the ‘messianic light’, exposes the incongruity between the world as it appears now and the world as it might be. That exposure – birthed and sustained by profound and counterintuitive hope, hope born not of trust in markets or in a change of conditions but which is the wholly unanticipated gift of the God of life – serves as both a judgement upon all that threatens and overcomes life, and as a promise that there is a love that is stronger than death.

That exposure also brings new possibilities for artists – in their freedom – to find their banjos, their pens, their brushes, their shoes, their voices, their humanity, etc. etc.

Human poiesis (and theology too, for that matter) can be – and in this world ought to be, as Jonathan Sacks put it in To Heal a Fractured World: The Ethics of Responsibility – a form of protest ‘against the world that is, in the name of the world that is not yet but ought to be’. It can like placing oneself right in the midst of a broken world – something like the way that the cellist Vedran Smailović placed himself in Sarajevo’s partially-bombed National Library in 1992 – and refusing to accept that the way things appear is the way that things must or will be.

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JASON GORONCY IS A THEOLOGIAN, ARTIST, AND FOLK FESTIVAL TRAGIC WHO LIVES AND PLAYS ON WURUNDJERI LAND.