Voices

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In memory of George Floyd (1973–2020)

voices from our lungs
have sound
vibration
colour
and life

they
laugh
sing
shout
exclaim
sigh
whine
wail
scream
play
..imitate
surprise
affirm
disapprove
dismiss
disgust
disappoint
question
scare
hesitate
annoy
yawn
moan
groan
roar
whistle
whisper
wonder
call
declare
cheer
adore
bless

every note
in high or low pitch
up or down accent
silence or noise
composed into a melody
in an ever-flowing river
of life

until
choked on the ground
smothered by the mask
crushed by Houston and Chengdu
suffocated by the pandemics
slaughtered in the home kitchen

and every moment since Eden

all we need
is to
BREATHE

[Image: Gabe Pierce]

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XIAOLI YANG IS A THEOLOGIAN, POET, AND SPIRITUAL DIRECTOR. SHE LIVES AND PLAYS ON WURUNDJERI LAND AND IN THE MIDDLE KINGDOM.

A Year of Jubilee

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Megan Fisher, That You Shine Like Stars In The World, 2020. Ink on paper, relief print, 32 x 8cm. Artist’s collection, Melbourne.

Gentle stirrings of chimes herald in a purifying breeze
reminding the caretakers of the world how careless they’ve been.
The starry nights obscured to the watcher’s eye by the wasting of the land,
isolation edicts are an unanticipated jubilee from the Maker’s hand.

Hear the chimes, ‘people of the land submit!’, rippling through
singing a contemplative melody as the asphyxiating smog unknits,
The quickened pace from then to now left Sayers dismayed, of stockings
thrown into decay after one shift, opportunities to change our ways. Will we?

Decimation to the soil has brought groans across a withered land
whispering chimes gather strength as our mandatory solitude continues by,
providence. Bringing the land a Sabbath from the ancient ways
has not been on the minds of caretakers today.

‘Behold!’ the starry nights sing a promise to the generations.
The Father that placed these radiant stars left impressions
of a long-awaited covenant. Can we see? when we smother them with our greed?

‘A rest, please rest’, sighs the breeze as it sweeps through urban spaces
‘come wonder and be still beneath a shimmering celestial glow’
whispering peacefully to the caretakers, for to them this great gift was bestowed.

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Megan Fisher serves as a manager in the McKinnon Reformed Presbyterian Church, homeschools four of their five children, and teaches English and citizenship classes for women in the Melbourne Afghan community. Sometimes she is successful at finding just enough silence to create the art that is rumbling around in her head. She lives and works on Wurundjeri Land.

The Rawest Cry (for the caring professionals)

When I hold your hand
on the crisp white sheet,
I pray with all my heart
for you – deep peace.

When I’m at home,
there’s no one’s hand
holding mine,
and mostly I’m just fine –

but maybe – maybe –
maybe I’m too strong
for my own good?

When I catch your tears
in frothy coffee remnants,
I pray with all my heart
for you – new hope.

When I close the door,
I pour my own wine
to catch my falling tears,
and most days, that’s just fine –

but maybe – maybe –
maybe I’m too strong
for my own good?

When black dogs and monsters
cast clouds across the sun,
I pray with all my heart
for you – be well.

Then, at last, my dog wakes,
pulls me into the shadows;
and no one hears the rawest cry
that I am far from fine –

and maybe – maybe –
maybe I am too strong,
too strong for my own good?

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SARAH AGNEW IS A STORYTELLER, POET, AND UNITING CHURCH MINISTER CURRENTLY IN PLACEMENT WITH CANBERRA CENTRAL PARISH. HER POETRY AND LITURGY APPEAR IN WILD GOOSE PUBLICATIONS AS STAND-ALONE E-LITURGIES, AND IN EDITED ANTHOLOGIES AS WEEKLY PRAYER-POEMS AT PRAY THE STORY. HER MOST RECENT PUBLISHED POETRY COLLECTION IS HOLD THEM CLOSE (RESOURCE PUBLICATIONS, 2018). SHE LIVES AND WORKS ON NGUNNAWAL COUNTRY.

A Collective Silent Space: creative words in the chatroom following a Zoom meeting during COVID-19

after the ocean wave of silence
colourful shells on the sand
form these musical lines:

entering the fire
dancing in the heart of flames
beating the drum with rhythms
immersed in the liquid love of the Spirit
soaring above the clouds
the shelter of each other where we live
infilling
……….detaching
……….……….uplifting
……….……….……….outworking

harness of God
energy of love
healing of all creation
sacred ground of truth
and mystery

let yeast permeate the dough of our reality
enliven our hearts to reach out
Christ takes shape among us
a new way of being
a unified space
enfolding each other in the Presence
sheer blessings

birds calling
ripples on a pond
go in peace
……….go with justice
……….……….go in love

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XIAOLI YANG IS A THEOLOGIAN, POET, AND SPIRITUAL DIRECTOR. SHE LIVES AND PLAYS ON WURUNDJERI LAND AND IN THE MIDDLE KINGDOM.

We’ve Misplaced Jesus’ Jewishness

We’ve misplaced Jesus’ Jewishness.
(It’s a bit embarrassing)

I knew we left it somewhere
Around the farm or in the yard
Between the 2nd temple and the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Lost the Messianic in the messy-attic;
We Turned the wrong tables and spilled hope of the Mosaic, everywhere.

So I guess it’s no wonder that we found other pieces

filled in the blanks with what made sense at the time and turned the free salvific into a cost-less grace.
Understand, not, ‘make a stand’.
It’s a gentler salve for an aching heart and we can say it from wherever we sit.

But what would the cows think
out there grazing on the
blessed bounty of the earth?

Do they think that what they die for is more important than their own muchness?

At least someone’s helping to search the top paddock … even as the rains come …

And with all those pieces in puddles
and no Moses to muscle the Reed Sea,
We filled in the picture with culture and reason and it’s no wonder that the hand became its center.

That hand
pointing …

before long we had painted so many pictures that we forgot it was ever a mosaic hope.
… no wonder that here
I AM: confused

But I found a bit today

Back, behind the stove
Behind the boiler and
manufacturing machine,
amidst the tear Gas

and passionate web of solidarity …

And if you fit it in just right you can almost see a new humanity.
The precious darker shades bring out the definition

a picture more gracious in a higher resolution.

So hope? … We are. Aren’t we?
(Eschatological)

Here and now in this new human future.

And somewhere I’m sure,
A bush is still burning.

—————-

(Who’d have thought
we could just say
‘yes’?)

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P. J. BANKS IS AN ASPIRING WRITER AND POET, AND A CANDIDATE FOR PASTORAL MINISTRY WITH THE UNITING CHURCH. HE IS PASSIONATE ABOUT THE ARTS AND THEOLOGY, AND THEIR PURSUIT AND UNDERSTANDING OF CONSCIOUSNESS, MEANING, AND THE NATURE OF REALITY. HE LIVES AND WORKS ON DJA DJA WURRUNG AND TAUNGURUNG LAND.

My Journey

Secure within my comfort zone,
protected from besieging germ,
I thank good fortune I am well,
and pray I won’t become infirm.

For of the knowledge tree I ate,
filled my pantry, stayed at home,
spent time apart from kith and kin,
immersed myself in Zoom and tome.

And now, in isolation, I
have time to contemplate and rest,
but find reflections weigh me down,
confuse my mind, put me to test.

For others suffer worse than me
amidst lost jobs, elusive hope.
‘Is it my role’, I ask myself,
‘to risk my health to help them cope?’

Then naked in God’s sight I hide,
distance myself from Micah’s call
to humbly walk and kindness love,
and justice do to those who fall.

But as I sit this crisis out,
observing from retirement’s womb
the stresses neighbours now endure,
I ponder on an empty tomb.

For on a cross forgiveness sang,
not silenced by a cruel fate,
not blaming me for selfish act,
but helping me my fears abate.

This fortress offers me some space
to trust the paradox of faith,
that in the midst of death … is life,
and there I find a place that’s safe.

God clothes me well with Eden’s skins
to help me learn to live Shalom
amidst Creation’s groaning sighs:
Your Kingdom Come adorns my home.

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Inspired by Genesis 3, Psalm 46, and Micah 6.8.

I write poetry to explore the ineffability of faith, almost paradoxically using words to cast light on faith’s mysteries, ambiguities, and challenges as humanity engages in a restless quest to understand the Divine.

‘My Journey’ is the third poem in an unplanned trilogy (following ‘Sophia’s Lament’ and ‘Gaia’s Revenge?’) written in response to 2020’s catastrophic start – bushfires, floods, COVID-19, and economic collapse. Where and how do we find God in these events? The divine, earth, and human perspectives unfolded as I put pen to paper.

Knowledge … home … distance … love … justice … neighbour … faith … safe … Eden … Shalom. How do we interpret these words and give effect to them in our lives as we face crises? Psalm 46, on which Luther’s hymn ‘A Mighty Fortress is Our God’ is based, provides some insights.

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CHRIS DALTON IS A RETIRED PUBLIC AFFAIRS ANALYST, WITH A PASSION FOR PUBLIC THEOLOGY, PARTICULARLY WITH REGARD TO THE ENVIRONMENT. AUTHOR OF REIMAGINING LAND IN AUSTRALIA: FROM TERRA NULLIUS TO BELOVED COMPANION, HE FINDS POETRY A REWARDING WAY TO EXPLORE ‘WICKED’ PROBLEMS. HE LIVES ON BUNURONG/BOONWURRUNG AND YUIN LANDS.

My God is an Open Book

My heart is an open door and you’re all it took,
You’re all it took,
And I’m sore and shallow and sorry somewhere
And it seems she’s taking steps
To remind me she’s taking steps
to remind me she’s talking
like a whisper …

Like a whisper that changes seasons
That concurs demons
That breaks all reason
Till we’re bruised and bleeding
Till we’re raw
and true
And our spirits screaming
Till our hearts are beating, again
… and In some
still
quiet
place, We’re sane …

And the love…
and lovers that we once sought
Are more than just our loves in name.

She whispers
and He whispers
and They whisper your story Open
And dare you to stand
Dare you to run
to laugh, to play, to weep those tears till your body is soft
to dance this dance
Till your being is lost …

Till all your breaking
Is found in its cost.

My God is an open book.
My God is an open Heart
and you’re all it took.

You’re all it took.

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P. J. Banks is an aspiring writer and poet, and a candidate for pastoral ministry with the Uniting Church. He is passionate about the arts and theology, and their pursuit and understanding of consciousness, meaning, and the nature of reality. He lives and works on Dja Dja Wurrung and Taungurung Land.

Gaia’s Revenge?

Gaia watches from a vale of sorrow,
her life abundant used to serve and feed
visions seeded with a bright tomorrow,
but dreamt by a voracious, fertile breed.
Weakened by a population growing,
polluted by exhausted seas and land,
hostage to consumption overflowing
she struggles to survive excess demand.
Few heed the warnings of her urgent sighs,
seduced by prospects of a better life,
tho’ Eden soon may wake to plaintive cries
interweaved with apocalyptic strife.
Bushfires and pandemics scourge the nation:
Gaia’s revenge, or human creation?

James Lovelock conceived the Gaia hypothesis, named after the Greek goddess of Earth, in 1965. Through it, Lovelock popularised the idea of the whole earth as one giant self-regulating ecosystem, describing his scientific journey as a quest in search of evidence for the idea that the earth is alive. The Gaia hypothesis attracted the attention of eminent theologians such as Rosemary Radford Ruether, and seemed to cohere with New Age spirituality.

In exploring this concept I was influenced by Judith Wright’s poem ‘Australia 1970’, where the final verse reads:

I praise the scoring drought, the flying dust,
the drying creek, the furious animal,
that they oppose us still;
that we are ruined by the thing we kill.

This casts Land as a protagonist where we might be wary of, in Ruether’s words, ‘”Mother Earth” rising up like a chthonic Jehovah to topple human empires and return earth to pre-civilised simplicity … a justified revenge of “nature” against “civilisation”’.

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Chris Dalton is a retired public affairs analyst, with a passion for public theology, particularly with regard to the environment. Author of Reimagining Land in Australia: From Terra Nullius to Beloved Companion, he finds poetry a rewarding way to explore ‘wicked’ problems. He lives on Bunurong/Boonwurrung and Yuin Lands.

Sophia’s Lament

Sophia. The true unity in the true trinity, from Scivias by Hildegard von Bingen according to the Ruppertsberger Codex (around 1180) - 2
Hildegard von Bingen, Three Persons (detail), c. 1152. Published in Sara Salvadori, Hildegard von Bingen: A Journey into the Images (Milano: Skira, 2019), 26.

Are you so blind
as not to see
the outcomes of
a reckless, grasping
lust for more?

Are you so deaf
as not to hear
the cries of woe
from nature’s victims
of relentless greed?

Are you so dumb
as not to speak
the prescient words
that bigger barns
will fail to satisfy?

Yet once you ate
Wisdom’s fruit
to help discern
how you should live
in Eden’s paradise.

Gaia now waits,
brooding her revenge,
mourning barren lands,
exhausted mines
sucked dry by you.

Release your soul
and question why
you toil in pain,
addicted to gorging
nature’s bounteous crop.

Hide not from God,
come to me …
see gifts of love
gracefully clothe
the body of Shalom.

Hovering above chaos
with creative light,
fuelled by goodness,
overcome by none,
I’m dancing my lament.

Inspired by Genesis 1.1–5, Genesis 3, Luke 12.13–21, John 1.1–5, and Romans 8:22.

The wisdom proverb See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil tells of those who, like the three monkeys, turn aside when confronted by evil.

What St John says about ‘the Word of God’ was said about Sophia in the Jewish tradition.  Like the Word, Lady Wisdom was present with God before Creation. Just as the Word was with God and was God, so Sophia was. And when John writes that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us as Jesus, he could just as well have said that Sophia became flesh and dwelt among us as Jesus, the Wisdom of God incarnate. Sophia now hovers over the chaos of bushfires and pandemics.

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Chris Dalton is a retired public affairs analyst, with a passion for public theology, particularly with regard to the environment. Author of Reimagining Land in Australia: From Terra Nullius to Beloved Companion, he finds poetry a rewarding way to explore ‘wicked’ problems. He lives on Bunurong/Boonwurrung and Yuin Lands.

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.

Picture2

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.

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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?

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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.