Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Google reader?

Google reader doesn't seem to like my blog lately. I have two posts not there in google reader yet, and others have taken hours to get there. Oh well, gives me ample opportunity to edit them ...

Blurring the line on family

As part of my job I deal with cases from the Family Court of Australia, and the Family Law cases from the Federal Magistrates Court of Australia. Of course most cases that make it to this level of the courts are an ugly mess, in terms of relationships. And the cases that come to me for reporting are also those that have some sort of federal nexus in terms of the law.

I am constantly amazed at what sort of things have to be defined, investigated and redefined at this level. Today I am dealing with a case in which the findings are

A person must be in a de facto relationship with the birth mother at the time the artificial inseminiation procedure is carried out to be ascribed parental status pursuant to s 60H(1) [of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth)].
The case is about a same-sex couple who were in a relationship, though not living in the same dwelling, when one of them had artificial insemination. The other was there for the birth and stayed at the hospital and did the all the usual "partner" sort of things. However, now that the relationship is over, that other person is neither a biological parent, nor was in a "defacto relationship" with the mother at the time of conception, and so in the end is deemed, by the law, to not be a parent of the child under the Family Law Act - and so denied parental rights. (You can't help empathising with that woman, in some respects, but what is the law to do?) The case goes on to discuss the meaning of "a couple living together" in terms of relevant state case law, because that is no longer something that is self-explanatory (and spells out things such as the fact that for the brief times that they conhabitated they bought their own toiletries). It also then goes on to discuss the existence or otherwise of a sexual relationship because that is also necessary to determine.

It all just goes to highlight the problems that can arise when one person in a relationship cannot be a biological parent, and when there is no defined or publicly recognised status of the relationship (let alone the problems that arise owing to no long-term commitment to the relationship). And that's just one story among many. And it just reminds me that God really did design things for everybody's good when he ordered that there be one man and one woman, in the public union of marriage, for life, within which they conceive and bring-up children.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Long Fall Back to Earth

I've just discovered that Jars of Clay has a new album coming out, The Long Fall Back to Earth, and you can listen to snippets online here. I do like Jars of Clay, though perhaps more for their music than their lyrics.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

LOVE project

How sweet is this? I LOVE this guy's photography.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Booksellers and the lonely

This resonates with me. I think I need to write a book. (From Alain de Botton, The Consolations of Philosophy, on Montaigne and the Consolation for Inadequacy).

Authorship was prompted by disappointment with those in the vicinity, and yet it was infused with the hope that someone elsewhere would understand; his book an address to everyone and no one in particular. He was aware of the paradox of expressing his deepest self to strangers in bookshops:

Many things that I would not care to tell any individual man I tell to the public, and for knowledge of my most secret thoughts, I refer my most loyal friends to a bookseller's stall.
And yet we should be grateful for the paradox. Booksellers are the most valuable destination for the lonely, given the numbers of books that were written because authors couldn't find anyone to talk to.

Montaigne might have begun writing to alleviate a personal sense of loneliness, but his book may serve in a small way to alleviate our own ...

Friday, March 27, 2009

Food for the heart

So we are all in reaction phase at the moment (even though there has been confirmation that my sister has no history of high cholesterol), and one of the things you can do for your heart is eat more of the good oils (or omega 3 fatty acids). The list of their benefits is impressive―see here for one example. On looking at the amounts of these oils in various foods I discovered a very nice excuse to eat fresh atlantic salmon: canned salmon, at 500mg per 60gm serve, has more than three times the Omega 3s of canned tuna at 145 mg, which I eat quite often, and fresh salmon at 1200 mg has more than twice the amount of the canned version. I love atlantic salmon! Or you could say, I ♥ atlantic salmon (that would be a good t-shirt slogan don't you think?). It also contains lower levels of mercury than some other types of fish, and I don't like to eat heavy metal any more than I like to listen to it. So, I just trotted off to the fish markets with a work friend in my lunch break to get some. The only draw back here is the price of $23 kg―but believe me, if it prevents you having a heart attack and then being medicated up to your eye balls, it's worth it.

If you clicked on the link above you may have noticed that the only thing higher in these good oils than fresh salmon is sardines. Sardines can come cheap. I think we had these occasionally as kids but I had forgotten what they even tasted like. So I just tried eating some on my bread roll for lunch. Hmmm. I am not so sure about sardines. For a starters it's rather disconcerting being faced with whole little fishes. I had to try not to think about the poor, wee things as I took the first bite. And they were drowning in some kind of tomato sauce that oozed and dripped everywhere, which I had to try not to think about either.

The salmon is looking really good.

Poetry Friday - Nick and the Candlestick

Nicholas Hughes, the son of poets Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, recently committed suicide, on 24th March. So here is a poem his mother (who committed suicide in 1963) wrote on his birth at midnight. I haven't grasped all of this poem yet, and it is not of the sort that particularly moves me, but see what you think.

Nick And The Candlestick
Sylvia Plath

The Collected Poems

I am a miner. The light burns blue.
Waxy stalactites
Drip and thicken, tears

The earthen womb
Exudes from its dead boredom.
Black bat airs

Wrap me, raggy shawls,
Cold homicides.
They weld to me like plums.

Old cave of calcium
Icicles, old echoer.
Even the newts are white,

Those holy Joes.
And the fish, the fish—
Christ! They are panes of ice,

A vice of knives,
A piranha
Religion, drinking

Its first communion out of my live toes.
The candle
Gulps and recovers its small altitude,

Its yellows hearten.
O love, how did you get here?
O embryo

Remembering, even in sleep,
Your crossed position.
The blood blooms clean

In you, ruby.
The pain
You wake to is not yours.

Love, love,
I have hung our cave with roses.
With soft rugs—

The last of Victoriana.
Let the stars
Plummet to their dark address,

Let the mercuric
Atoms that cripple drip
Into the terrible well,

You are the one
Solid the spaces lean on, envious.
You are the baby in the barn.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Attacks of the heart

So I am back in Sydney after a week in the midst of what one family member called our "multi-faceted drama". I will tell you about one facet of this drama.

On Friday 13th March I booked a ticket to fly home in response to the first facet. But then in the middle of that Friday night my older sister felt terrible, had a pain that started in her back and had what turned out to be a heart attack. This was quite a shocking surprise. However, it was a minor one as these things go and she was in hospital waiting for an angiogram on the following Monday, so at this point I didn't change my ticket. Then on Sunday morning she had another acute attack in the hospital and went in for emergency angioplasty, which I didn't find out about until I was at church. In all undramatic seriousness, had she not already been in the coronary ward of a hospital for this one she would no longer be on this earth.

So I bought another plane ticket and flew up last Monday. She was doing fine, because angioplasty, while a serious medical procedure, is not actually that invasive and you can recover quickly. They put stents in through your femoral artery and it is quite amazing technology. I don't think I have told blog world this, but one of the stranger jobs I have had in my life is actually working for the cardiologists for a time at one of the private hospitals in Brisbane. I did ECGs on people. I read patient files and listened to cardiology conversations. I've been there when a person went into ventricular fibrillation and we had a "code blue", the highest level of medical emergency—sirens go off and lights flash and people with machines come running. So, I know something about all this business—probably just enough to be dangerous. They put four stents (that is a lot) in one of my sister's arteries during this angioplasty. The thing about this second heart attack is that it was in a different place to the first. The cardiologist said "well I don't believe in coincidence but this is a separate event".

My sister was doing fine, all things considered, and due to come home on Thursday or Friday last week and so I kept my return ticket which was for Saturday. She did know, however, that there was a partial blockage with the artery that caused the first attack that she would need to come back about some time in the future. Then she caught some viral thing going around the hospital (either that or it was food poisoning, but other patients also had it) and couldn't go home on Thursday and was really not up to doing the stress test on the Friday, which was to test the functioning of that first partial blockage before she went home, and started complaining about more chest pain. Nothing, however, was registering on the ECG (but it hadn't in the first attack either) and the two cardiologists she had previously seen were not in that day. They also don't go in and do angiograms for chest pain only, because it carries risks. So it was quite a while before an abnormality registered on the ECG and they whisked her in for a further angiogram and plasty. They also thought the problem might be in the second artery and took a while getting to the blockage, which was actually that first one this time, and my sister said she nearly let go at this point because the pain went on and on and was excruciating (that from a person who had children with only happy gas—so you have it from her that there is a pain worse than child birth). This next angioplasty was complicated and then she was really quite sick afterwards and needed two blood transfusions to get her haemoglobin level back up and deal with an inexplicably low blood pressure. So I bought yet another plane ticket.

At this point you may well wonder why all this and be picturing a chain-smoking, junk-devouring couch potato. The truth is that my sister has never smoked a cigarette in her life, came first in NSW in Homescience when she did it for the HSC (which is all about nutrition and the properties of food—and sure they didn't live like health freaks but were not UNhealthy) and two days before the first heart attack had been to the gym, ran for nearly an hour with a friend and swam 70 laps of a pool, with absolutely no problem. It looks like she also does not have high cholesterol. So they are puzzled about why a woman in her thirties with no risk factors suddenly has a heart attack, which is still to be determined (she has managed hypertension with a kidney problem, so whether that has damaged the vessels at some time past is a possibility). But in interaction with the other facets of this drama you can't help but see the hand of God.

What I spent last week doing was visiting the hospital, helping out with my sister's two kids (I took this photo on one of our many walks around the hospital) and then being back at my Mum's with my other sister and her two babies—this included a lot of borrowing cars, switching keys, driving about and co-ordinating changeovers, jiggling a baby or playing with a toddler, such things as trying to help out with Mandarin—as in the language—homework in a hospital room (at which I was no help at all!) and cooking meals for the whole lot of us for most nights. My younger sister is also staying with my Mum at the moment because they have recently been posted to Toowoomba with the Army and are in the process of buying a house there, so her husband is working in Toowoomba and coming back on weekends. Her children are 21 months and 4 months and they are both gorgeous but the 4-month-old is, well, difficult. At one point I was in the back seat of the car, caught in traffic in the rain on the way home from the hospital (which is 45 minutes from the house on a good run but an hour and a half that day), and finished up holding him, terrified that we were going to have an accident or that I was going to get arrested because I had been told to take him out of his car seat when no-one could take the screaming any longer.

I've also discovered just how hectic a primary school schedule is. Three mornings of the week my two nieces had things on that started at 7.00 am (two of them compulsory school things) and every afternoon of the week one of them at least had something on (slightly busier than usual because they are having some swimming lessons at the moment). On Friday afternoon I had just picked them up from swimming, then decided that I was going to take them to Cold Rock for ice-cream because they had never been there before and it was Friday afternoon—and I thought, well, maybe I will give then one last splurge before we all go on a no-cholesterol diet (even though that now doesn't seem to be the problem, and I am quite sure that mine has always been low but will get it checked). We had just got there when I got the call to say my sister was having the third heart attack, and Mum and my sister were on their way to the hospital (my brother-in-law was already there). I asked my Mum what I should do with the girls, but she wasn't the person to ask in that moment, so my younger sister told me to just take the kids home and act normal. So I just took a deep breath, pushed open the door of Cold Rock (the girls had already gone in and were gazing at the ice cream selection) and we talked ice cream, while I had a conversation with God at the same time. Then I took them to my Mum's place, where my younger brother-in-law, who was down for the weekend, was home alone with the two babies, one of whom was screaming. Somehow we managed to act cool, feed all these kids to the background screaming and bath two of them and then I took the girls up to the hospital for a visit after my sister came out of the second angioplasty (with prior warning that she might look a bit sick), the youngest niece told her Dad about her ice-cream, then my younger sister did a swap and took them home and went to deal with the baby (he's mostly formula fed now because he is lactose intolerant, which is some of his problem if my sister eats the merest hint of it) and I got to stay there for hours into the night with my Mum, who wasn't happy about my sister's blood pressure. My brother-in-law stayed that night at the hospital so the girls slept with us at Mum's and I had them for most of the weekend.

Kids are funny things. They seem so resilient and just want to go on with the small, normal things in life. But a good many of us know what childhood trauma actually does in the long term, what kids absorb when they seemingly aren't paying attention, and so I keep praying that they come out of all this OK. One afternoon the older one was taking a long time getting ready for gymnastics and I found her in her room gazing at her drawer in dismay because the clothes she usually wears weren't in there (we weren't really on top of the washing). So I pulled out a different leotard, which was pink and silver, and told her I was sure that she could wear that with the navy blue bike shorts and that they would look nice together. She looked at me for a second in uncertainty then left the room with them—I thought to put them on but I then heard her out in the backyard asking her sister if she could wear that, which I thought was rather cute (her Mum told me that one afternoon previously she'd cried at gym because she didn't like her outfit!). Something has changed about the world of my own youth if you can't wear pink and blue together. Then my younger niece didn't want to pack her pyjamas in case she needed to sleep Nanny's on Friday night (this was before I knew about the actual heart attack) because she was desperate to go to a birthday party that she had been invited to on the Saturday and thought sleeping at Nanny's would somehow jeaopardise that. So, I didn't push it at this point and we ended up without pyjamas and later, when they did have to sleep at my Mum's, I had to reassure her that I would make sure she got to this birthday party the next morning. And, my goodness, I dropped her off at an opulent house on the river, a group of nine and ten-year-old girls were all taken down to the Gold Coast to Hog's Breath Cafe for lunch and then to some fun place called "Infinity" and seven hours later I was to pick her up. I didn't really like sending her so far away for so long, but she was happy and distracted for the day. Going to collect her felt like a scene out of Desperate Housewives (well, I've never actually watched that show but I can imagine). The house was full of glamorous school Mums chatting, with me uncomfortably trying to hold my own while they finished off with the cake and did a dance routine for us, but I knew that behind the smiling faces and the glossy houses were tales of unhappiness. I also took the older niece with me to collect her and caught one of the Mums saying to her "you will have to look after Mummy now" and I just wanted to put my hands over her ears. Why must people say such unhelpful things to children? She's only just turned twelve and the one thing she needs to know right now is that she can still be the kid, that there are adults around who are in control and taking care of people and stuff and that it is not her responsibility.

Anyway, this is a long post but feels like just a snippet of the week. My sister went home from hospital today and we are thankful that she is still here, though slightly baffled, and praying all goes well from this point on.

The language marines

I really like this quote, from a blog I also really like (Twenty Two Words):

Civilians work with the easily labelled things, but when something just barely describable confronts us, we call in the language marines: poets.

- Fred Sanders

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

When you're feeling blue ...

There are some people in this world to whom I wanted to give a little reminder that when they're feeling blue or wounded, God loves them and cares about them and so does Ali. Then I found myself singing and teaching them (the appropriate portions of) Groovy Kind of Love. I think it's now our song. Only problem is that God doesn't really feature in it - perhaps we need our own cover version.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Lost in the fog

I am off to Brisbane shortly on a family concern for a week or so, so all might be quiet in the fog till I return.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Poetry Friday - Smoke

Here's a poem, which I am actually quite surprised hasn't already featured on this blog, because it has been scrawled in every journal I ever owned, usually inside the front cover - not that I do much journaling these days (what are blogs for!), though I do have a journal which has inscribed on the cover, in Harry-Potter-style font, "the deeply unfortunate doings of an ill-fated life" (must have been a bad day).


Lord, I have laid my heart upon thy altar
But cannot get the wood to burn;
It hardly flares ere it begins to falter
And to the dark return.

Old sap, or night-fallen dew, makes damp the fuel;
In vain my breath would flame provoke;
Yet see—at every poor attempt's renewal
To thee ascends the smoke!

'Tis all I have—smoke, failure, foiled endeavour,
Coldness and doubt and palsied lack:
Such as I have I send thee!—perfect Giver,
Send thou thy lightning back.

George MacDonald

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Petulia Clark in Austen

This was apparently edited out of Lost in Austen in the ABC screening on Sunday night. What a pity! It makes my eyes water. I heard Bingley refer to "Downtown" later in the episode and wondered what he was getting at. H/T: Nicole who directed me here. (And this version, from 1964, is equally as funny - the first 20 seconds will make your day.)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Recycled clothing

The first time I put my blog through this gender analyzer it said it was 90% sure my blog was written by a woman. Today I ran it again and it said 56% sure, but thinks it’s gender neutral. I'm surprised. So, I thought that what was needed to swing things back in the right direction was a post about clothes and bargain shopping.

I have been getting into "recycled" clothing of late. There is a Vinnies near where I live (Vinnies stands for St Vincent de Paul, and is an "opportunity shop" for those who may not know) but for the whole first year I lived here I never had any luck when I went in there, and thought it was full of old, grotty, smelly things, to be honest. That is until a few weeks ago, when I stumbled in and then stumbled out again with six things for $52. Here they are:

  • This froggish/apple green fine corduroy shirt-dress which I have been wearing about lately in the autumn weather, and which people keep commenting on. It was actually brand new, with tags still on - they must have got some shop stock from somewhere, and I doubt it was expensive in the first place, but I am enjoying owning it. In the end I went back and got the plum-coloured one they had also, as I figure I could wear it to work.

  • I also got another shirt for work with tags attached, in a bright apricot colour and the first time I wore it the stylish girl who sits next to me commented on it.

  • A French Connection cardigan-style top for work in a wide green and black stripe, with large press-studs up the front and a belt around the waist

  • A light-weight Rip Curl pull-over hoodie, for slopping about (I am not really into brand names, but these are clothes that would normally be quite expensive)

  • A blue zip-up woolly cardy

  • A pale pink jacket, which I bought for my Mum. I am good at buying clothes for my Mum. She reckons she can never find anything, but she just needs me to go shopping with her :).

  • * Note nothing is ironed in these photos - and it all went through the wash to get rid of that smelly business.

  • Then I went into the vintage clothing shop up the road from my church the next day, because I was walking by it on the way home, and got a long Witchery cardigan for $25, which I thought was worth the massive $25 because it’s pure wool. It even has sequins on the belt. Not sure why, but they're sparkly.

  • So, now I feel like I basically have myself covered for winter, just from random op-shopping, and it has restored my faith in the whole venture. When I have days like that I wonder why I have ever payed new prices for anything, but I am not always so successful.

    Monday, March 09, 2009

    The scene of Janet's repentance

    OK, this might be the longest blog post ever, but it is an excerpt of very fine fiction (from Janet's Repentance, by George Eliot). This is the scene that unfolds when Janet requests to speak to the Evangelical minister (whom the townsfolk have tried to run out for sharing this heretical thing called the "gospel") after her drunken abusive husband has finally turned her out into the night. I thought it was beautiful, and it has something to say about authenticity and the way in which mutual confession provides comfort, and how sometimes we need flesh to clothe ideas. (You can read this book online here - this is taken from chapters 18 and 19 - I was appalled to discover that the Gutenberg project had edited out the very finest portion of this dialogue.)

    'O, I should like to be good and to do right,' Janet burst forth; 'but indeed, indeed, my lot has been a very hard one. I loved my husband very dearly when we were married, and I meant to make him happy--I wanted nothing else. But he began to be angry with me for little things and ... I don't want to accuse him ... but he drank and got more and more unkind to me, and then very cruel, and he beat me. And that cut me to the heart. It made me almost mad sometimes to think all our love had come to that ... I couldn't bear up against it. I had never been used to drink anything but water. I hated wine and spirits because Robert drank them so; but one day when I was very wretched, and the wine was standing on the table, I suddenly ... I can hardly remember how I came to do it ... I poured some wine into a large glass and drank it. It blunted my feelings. and made me more indifferent. After that, the temptation was always coming, and it got stronger and stronger. I was ashamed, and I hated what I did; but almost while the thought was passing through my mind that I would never do it again, I did it. It seemed as if there was a demon in me always making me rush to do what I longed not to do. And I thought all the more that God was cruel; for if He had not sent me that dreadful trial, so much worse than other women have to bear, I should not have done wrong in that way. I suppose it is wicked to think so ... I feel as if there must be goodness and right above us, but I can't see it, I can't trust in it. And I have gone on in that way for years and years. At one time it used to be better now and then, but everything has got worse lately. I felt sure it must soon end somehow. And last night he turned me out of doors ... I don't know what to do. I will never go back to that life again if I can help it; and yet everything else seems so miserable. I feel sure that demon will always be urging me to satisfy the craving that comes upon me, and the days will go on as they have done through all those miserable years. I shall always be doing wrong, and hating myself after--sinking lower and lower, and knowing that I am sinking. O can you tell me any way of getting strength? Have you ever known any one like me that got peace of mind and power to do right? Can you give me any comfort--any hope?'

    While Janet was speaking, she had forgotten everything but her misery and her yearning for comfort. Her voice had risen from the low tone of timid distress to an intense pitch of imploring anguish. She clasped her hands tightly, and looked at Mr. Tryon with eager questioning eyes, with parted, trembling lips, with the deep horizontal lines of overmastering pain on her brow. In this artificial life of ours, it is not often we see a human face with all a heart's agony in it, uncontrolled by self-consciousness; when we do see it, it startles us as if we had suddenly waked into the real world of which this everyday one is but a puppet-show copy. For some moments Mr. Tryan was too deeply moved to speak.

    'Yes, dear Mrs. Dempster,' he said at last, 'there is comfort, there is hope for you. Believe me there is, for I speak from my own deep and hard experience.' He paused, as if he had not made up his mind to utter the words that were urging themselves to his lips. Presently he continued, 'Ten years ago, I felt as wretched as you do. I think my wretchedness was even worse than yours, for I had a heavier sin on my conscience. I had suffered no wrong from others as you have, and I had injured another irreparably in body and soul. The image of the wrong I had done pursued me everywhere, and I seemed on the brink of madness. I hated my life, for I thought, just as you do, that I should go on falling into temptation and doing more harm in the world; and I dreaded death, for with that sense of guilt on my soul, I felt that whatever state I entered on must be one of misery. But a dear friend to whom I opened my mind showed me it was just such as I--the helpless who feel themselves helpless--that God specially invites to come to Him, and offers all the riches of His salvation: not forgiveness only; forgiveness would be worth little if it left us under the powers of our evil passions; but strength--that strength which enables us to conquer sin.'

    'But,' said Janet, 'I can feel no trust in God. He seems always to have left me to myself. I have sometimes prayed to Him to help me, and yet everything has been just the same as before. If you felt like me, how did you come to have hope and trust?'

    'Do not believe that God has left you to yourself. How can you tell but that the hardest trials you have known have been only the road by which He was leading you to that complete sense of your own sin and helplessness, without which you would never have renounced all other hopes, and trusted in His love alone? I know, dear Mrs. Dempster, I know it is hard to bear. I would not speak lightly of your sorrows. I feel that the mystery of our life is great, and at one time it seemed as dark to me as it does to you.' Mr. Tryan hesitated again. He saw that the first thing Janet needed was to be assured of sympathy. She must be made to feel that her anguish was not strange to him; that he entered into the only half-expressed secrets of her spiritual weakness, before any other message of consolation could find its way to her heart. The tale of the Divine Pity was never yet believed from lips that were not felt to be moved by human pity. And Janet's anguish was not strange to Mr. Tryan. He had never been in the presence of a sorrow and a self-despair that had sent so strong a thrill through all the recesses of his saddest experience; and it is because sympathy is but a living again through our own past in a new form, that confession often prompts a response of confession. Mr. Tryan felt this prompting, and his judgement, too, told him that in obeying it he would be taking the best means of administering comfort to Janet. Yet he hesitated; as we tremble to let in the daylight on a chamber of relics which we have never visited except in curtained silence. But the first impulse triumphed, and he went on. [Here I have snipped Mr Tryan's own tale ...]

    Mr. Tryan had been looking away from Janet. His face was towards the fire, and he was absorbed in the images his memory was recalling. But now he turned his eyes on her, and they met hers, fixed on him with the look of rapt expectation, with which one clinging to a slippery summit of a rock, while the waves are rising higher and higher, watches the boat that has put from shore to his rescue.

    'You see, Mrs. Dempster, how deep my need was. I went on in this way for months. I was convinced that if I ever got health and comfort, it must be from religion. I went to hear celebrated preachers, and I read religious books. But I found nothing that fitted my own need. The faith which puts the sinner in possession of salvation seemed, as I understood it, to be quite out of my reach. I had no faith; I only felt utterly wretched, under the power of habits and dispositions which had wrought hideous evil. At last, as I told you, I found a friend to whom I opened all my feelings--to whom I confessed everything. He was a man who had gone through very deep experience, and could understand the different wants of different minds. He made it clear to me that the only preparation for coming to Christ and partaking of his salvation, was that very sense of guilt and helplessness which was weighing me down. He said, You are weary and heavy-laden; well, it is you Christ invites to come to him and find rest. He asks you to cling to him, to lean on him; he does not command you to walk alone without stumbling. He does not tell you, as your fellow-men do, that you must first merit his love; he neither condemns nor reproaches you for the past, he only bids you come to him that you may have life: he bids you stretch out your hands, and take of the fulness of his love. You have only to rest on him as a child rests on its mother's arms, and you will be upborne by his divine strength. That is what is meant by faith. Your evil habits, you feel, are too strong for you; you are unable to wrestle with them; you know beforehand you shall fall. But when once we feel our helplessness in that way, and go to the Saviour, desiring to be freed from the power as well as the punishment of sin, we are no longer left to our own strength. As long as we live in rebellion against God, desiring to have our own will, seeking happiness in the things of this world, it is as if we shut ourselves up in a crowded stifling room, where we breathe only poisoned air; but we have only to walk out under the infinite heavens, and we breathe the pure free air that gives us health, and strength, and gladness. It is just so with God's spirit: as soon as we submit ourselves to his will, as soon as we desire to be united to him, and made pure and holy, it is as if the walls had fallen down that shut us out from God, and we are fed with his spirit, which gives us new strength.'

    'That is what I want,' said Janet; 'I have left off minding about pleasure. I think I could be contented in the midst of hardship, if I felt that God cared for me, and would give me strength to lead a pure life. But tell me, did you soon find peace and strength?'

    'Not perfect peace for a long while, but hope and trust, which is strength. No sense of pardon for myself could do away with the pain I had in thinking what I had helped to bring on another. My friend used to urge upon me that my sin against God was greater than my sin against her; but--it may be from want of deeper spiritual feeling--that has remained to this hour the sin which causes me the bitterest pang. I could never rescue Lucy; but by God's blessing I might rescue other weak and falling souls; and that was why I entered the Church. I asked for nothing through the rest of my life but that I might be devoted to God's work, without swerving in search of pleasure either to the right hand or to the left. It has been often a hard struggle--but God has been with me--and perhaps it may not last much longer.'

    Mr. Tryan paused. For a moment he had forgotten Janet, and for a moment she had forgotten her own sorrows. When she recurred to herself, it was with a new feeling.

    'Ah, what a difference between our lives! you have been choosing pain, and working, and denying yourself; and I have been thinking only of myself. I was only angry and discontented because I had pain to bear. You never had that wicked feeling that I have had so often, did you? that God was cruel to send me trials and temptations worse than others have.'

    'Yes, I had; I had very blasphemous thoughts, and I know that spirit of rebellion must have made the worst part of your lot. You did not feel how impossible it is for us to judge rightly of God's dealings, and you opposed yourself to his will. But what do we know? We cannot foretell the working of the smallest event in our own lot; how can we presume to judge of things that are so much too high for us? There is nothing that becomes us but entire submission, perfect resignation. As long as we set up our own will and our own wisdom against God's, we make that wall between us and his love which I have spoken of just now. But as soon as we lay ourselves entirely at his feet, we have enough light given us to guide our own steps; as the foot-soldier who hears nothing of the councils that determine the course of the great battle he is in, hears plainly enough the word of command which he must himself obey. I know, dear Mrs. Dempster, I know it is hard--the hardest thing of all, perhaps--to flesh and blood. But carry that difficulty to the Saviour along with all your other sins and weaknesses, and ask him to pour into you a spirit of submission. He enters into your struggles; he has drunk the cup of our suffering to the dregs; he knows the hard wrestling it costs us to say, "Not my will, but Thine be done."'

    'Pray with me,' said Janet--'pray now that I may have light and strength.'
    (End of Chapter XVIII)

    Chapter XIX

    Before leaving Janet, Mr. Tryan urged her strongly to send for her mother.

    'Do not wound her,' he said, 'by shutting her out any longer from your troubles. It is right that you should be with her.'

    'Yes, I will send for her,' said Janet. 'But I would rather not go to my mother's yet, because my husband is sure to think I am there, and he might come and fetch me. I can't go back to him ... at least, not yet. Ought I to go back to him?'

    'No, certainly not, at present. Something should be done to secure you from violence. Your mother, I think, should consult some confidential friend, some man of character and experience, who might mediate between you and your husband.'

    'Yes, I will send for my mother directly. But I will stay here, with Mrs. Pettifer, till something has been done. I want no one to know where I am, except you. You will come again, will you not? you will not leave me to myself?'

    'You will not be left to yourself. God is with you. If I have been able to give you any comfort, it is because His power and love have been present with us. But I am very thankful that He has chosen to work through me. I shall see you again tomorrow--not before evening, for it will be Sunday, you know; but after the evening lecture I shall be at liberty. You will be in my prayers till then. In the meantime, dear Mrs. Dempster, open your heart as much as you can to your mother and Mrs. Pettifer. Cast away from you the pride that makes us shrink from acknowledging our weakness to our friends. Ask them to help you in guarding yourself from the least approach of the sin you most dread. Deprive yourself as far as possible of the very means and opportunity of committing it. Every effort of that kind made in humility and dependence is a prayer. Promise me you will do this.'

    'Yes, I promise you. I know I have always been too proud; I could never bear to speak to any one about myself. I have been proud towards my mother, even; it has always made me angry when she has seemed to take notice of my faults.'

    'Ah, dear Mrs. Dempster, you will never say again that life is blank, and that there is nothing to live for, will you? See what work there is to be done in life, both in our own souls and for others. Surely it matters little whether we have more or less of this world's comfort in these short years, when God is training us for the eternal enjoyment of his love. Keep that great end of life before you, and your troubles here will seem only the small hardships of a journey. Now I must go.'

    Mr. Tryan rose and held out his hand. Janet took it and said, 'God has been very good to me in sending you to me. I will trust in Him. I will try to do everything you tell me.'

    Blessed influence of one true loving human soul on another! Not calculable by algebra, not deducible by logic, but mysterious, effectual, mighty as the hidden process by which the tiny seed is quickened, and bursts forth into tall stem and broad leaf, and glowing tasseled flower. Ideas are often poor ghosts; our sun-filled eyes cannot discern them; they pass athwart us in thin vapour, and cannot make themselves felt. But sometimes they are made flesh; they breathe upon us with warm breath, they touch us with soft responsive hands, they look at us with sad sincere eyes, and speak to us in appealing tones; they are clothed in a living human soul, with all its conflicts, its faith, and its love. Then their presence is a power, then they shake us like a passion, and we are drawn after them with gentle compulsion, as flame is drawn to flame.

    system down

    And, yes, in case you're wondering why I am fiddling about emailing posts to my blog mid-morning it's because our work server has crashed, and I literally can't do anything - yet.

    A sermon on singleness

    However, before I went home to watch telly, I did go to evening church because Tim Adeney, who I mentioned over at the EQUIP book club a couple of times back in January, was preaching on Singleness (based on 1 Corinthians 7). It was just great, full or surprising and refreshing thoughts, and I chatted to some of the girls afterwards who were very appreciative. I hope it goes up online, and if so I will link to it then. It's not something that only single people need to hear.

    Lost in Austen

    Last night I succumbed to watching Lost in Austen on the ABC. All I can say is that it was exceedingly pernicious. The plot is that a London banker is so obsessed with the story of Mr Darcy and Lizzie that she changes places with Lizzie, walks through a door back in time and gets to try and negotiate life then as a visiting friend of Lizzie’s. All those guys out there who hate Mr Darcy (because you think women everywhere are looking for him, which, it has to be said, is a slightly more elevating pursuit than looking for Elle McPherson), will be pleased to know that is was just plain difficult. Anyway, despite the fact that the whole thing was unblushing sacrilege, with elements that would make Jane Austen turn in her grave, it was quite entertaining. It remains to be seen next week how she fixes up the mess she’s made so far.

    And thanks to Bernard who sent me the link to the show here. If you are anything like me and don’t watch enough TV to know what is actually on TV, and occasionally, very occasionally, miss something that might have been worth watching, now you can stay posted on yet another blog at TV tonight (but maybe everyone already knew that, because I am so retrograde at all things TV).

    Saturday, March 07, 2009

    An observation of domestic violence

    I thought this was a keen observation from George Eliot, in Janet's Repentance, on how one scene of domestic violence played out. Next I will post the scene wherein Janet calls on the local "Evangelical" minister in despair:

    Poor Janet! how heavily the months rolled on for her, laden with fresh sorrows as the summer passed into autumn, the autumn into winter, and the winter into spring again. Every feverish morning, with its blank listlessness and despair, seemed more hateful than the last; every coming night more impossible to brave without arming herself in leaden stupor. The morning light brought no gladness to her: it seemed only to throw its glare on what had happened in the dim candle-light—on the cruel man seated immovable in drunken obstinacy by the dead fire and dying lights in the dining-room, rating her in harsh tones, reiterating old reproaches—or on a hideous blank of something unremembered, something that must have made that dark bruise on her shoulder, which ached as she dressed herself.

    Do you wonder how it was that things had come to this pass—what offence Janet had committed in the early years of marriage to rouse the brutal hatred of this man? The seeds of things are very small: the hours that lie between sunrise and the gloom of midnight are travelled through by tiniest markings of the clock: and Janet, looking back along the fifteen years of her married life, hardly knew how or where this total misery began; hardly knew when the sweet wedded love and hope that had set for ever had ceased to make a twilight of memory and relenting, before the on-coming of the utter dark.

    Old Mrs Dempster thought she saw the true beginning of it all in Janet's want of housekeeping skill and exactness. 'Janet,' she said to herself, 'was always running about doing things for other people, and neglecting her own house. That provokes a man: what use is it for a woman to be loving. and making a fuss with her husband, if she doesn't take care and keep his home just as he likes it; if she isn't at hand when he wants anything done; if she doesn't attend to all his wishes, let them be as small as they may? That was what I did when I was a wife, though I didn't make half so much fuss about loving my husband. Then, Janet had no children.'... Ah! there Mammy Dempster had touched a true spring, not perhaps of her son's cruelty, but of half Janet's misery. If she had had babes to rock to sleep—little ones to kneel in their night-dress and say their prayers at her knees—sweet boys and girls to put their young arms round her neck and kiss away her tears, her poor hungry heart would have been fed with strong love, and might never have needed that fiery poison [that being alcohol] to still its cravings. Mighty is the force of motherhood! says the great tragic poet to us across the ages, finding, as usual, the simplest words for the sublimest fact—[here there is a Greek quote from Sophocles, which translated means "A wondrous thing it is to bear children"]. It transforms all things by its vital heat: it turns timidity into fierce courage and dreadless defiance into tremulous submission; it turns thoughtlessness into foresight, and yet stills all anxiety into calm content; it makes selfishness become self-denial, and gives even to hard vanity the glance of admiring love. Yes! if Janet had been a mother, she might have been saved from much sin, and therefore from much of her sorrow.

    But do not believe that it was anything either present or wanting in poor Janet that formed the motive of her husband's cruelty. Cruelty, like every other vice, requires no motive outside itself—it only requires opportunity. You do not suppose Dempster had any motive for drinking beyond the craving for drink; the presence of brandy was the only necessary condition. And an unloving, tyrannous, brutal man needs no motive to prompt his cruelty; he needs only the perpetual presence of a woman he can call his own. A whole park full of tame or timid-eyed animals to torment at his will would not serve him so well to glut his lust of torture; they could not feel as one woman does; they could not throw out the keen retort which whets the edge of hatred.

    Janet's bitterness would overflow in ready words; she was not to be made meek by cruelty; she would repent of nothing in the face of injustice, though she was subdued in a moment by a word or a look that recalled the old days of fondness; and in times of comparative calm would often recover her sweet woman's habit of caressing playful affection. But such days were become rare, and poor Janet's soul was kept like a vexed sea, tossed by a new storm before the old waves have fallen. Proud, angry resistance and sullen endurance were now almost the only alternations she knew. She would bear it all proudly to the world, but proudly towards him too; her woman's weakness might shriek a cry for pity under a heavy blow, but voluntarily she would do nothing to mollify him, unless he first relented. What had she ever done to him but love him too well—but believe in him too foolishly? He had no pity on her tender flesh; he could strike the soft neck he had once asked to kiss. Yet she would not admit her wretchedness; she had married him blindly, and she would bear it out to the terrible end, whatever that might be. Better this misery than the blank that lay for her outside her married home.

    Friday, March 06, 2009

    Thoughts from George Eliot

    Janet’s Repentance, the third story in Scenes of Clerical Life by George Eliot is the most wonderful story (so far – I haven’t even finished yet - I’m making the most of this day at home to curl up in bed with this book). Over the next few days I will share some of the insights it contains, about domestic abuse and the road down into alcoholism, and one pastoral scene that just made me weep and glow all at the same time. Here are a few snippets I have noted so far:

    … Yet surely, surely the only true knowledge of our fellow-man is that which enables us to feel with him—which gives us a fine ear for the heart-pulses that are beating under the mere clothes of circumstance and opinion. Our subtlest analysis of schools and sects must miss the essential truth, unless it be lit up by the love that sees in all forms of human thought and work, the life and death struggles of separate human beings. (Chapter X)

    … it is easy to understand that our discernment of men's motives must depend on the completeness of the elements we can bring from our own susceptibility and our own experience. See to it, friend, before you pronounce a too hasty judgement, that your own moral sensibilities are not of a hoofed or clawed character. The keenest eye will not serve, unless you have the delicate fingers, with their subtle nerve filaments, which elude scientific lenses, and lose themselves in the invisible world of human sensations. (Chapter XI)

    The most brilliant deed of virtue could not have inclined Janet's good-will towards Mr Tryan so much as this fellowship in suffering … There is a power in the direct glance of a sincere and loving human soul, which will do more to dissipate prejudice and kindle charity than the most elaborate arguments. The fullest exposition of Mr Tryan's doctrine might not have sufficed to convince Janet that he had not an odious self-complacency in believing himself a peculiar child of God; but one direct, pathetic look of his had dissociated him with that conception for ever. (Chapter XII)

    IT was probably a hard saying to the Pharisees, that 'there is more joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, than over ninety and nine just persons that need no repentance.' And certain ingenious philosophers of our own day must surely take offence at a joy so entirely out of correspondence with arithmetical proportion. But a heart that has been taught by its own sore struggles to bleed for the woes of another—that has 'learned pity through suffering'—is likely to find very imperfect satisfaction in the 'balance of happiness', 'doctrine of compensations', and other short and easy methods of obtaining thorough complacency in the presence of pain; and for such a heart that saying will not be altogether dark. The emotions, I have observed, are but slightly influenced by arithmetical considerations: the mother, when her sweet lisping little ones have all been taken from her one after another, and she is hanging over her last dead babe, finds small consolation in the fact that the tiny dimpled corpse is but one of a necessary average, and that a thousand other babes brought into the world at the same time are doing well, and are likely to live; and if you stood beside that mother—if you knew her pang and shared it—it is probable you would be equally unable to see a ground of complacency in statistics.

    Doubtless a complacency resting on that basis is highly rational; but emotion, I fear, is obstinately irrational: it insists on caring for individuals; it absolutely refuses to adopt the quantitative view of human anguish, and to admit that thirteen happy lives are a set-off against twelve miserable lives, which leaves a clear balance on the side of satisfaction. This is the inherent imbecility of feeling, and one must be a great philosopher to have got quite clear of all that, and to have emerged into the serene air of pure intellect, in which it is evident that individuals really exist for no other purpose than that abstractions may be drawn from them—abstractions that may rise from heaps of ruined lives like the sweet savour of a sacrifice in the nostrils of philosophers, and of a philosophic Deity. And so it comes to pass that for the man who knows sympathy because he has known sorrow, that old, old saying about the joy of angels over the repentant sinner outweighing their joy over the ninety-nine just has a meaning which does not jar with the language of his own heart. It only tells him, that for angels too there is a transcendent value in human pain, which refuses to be settled by equations; that the eyes of angels too are turned away from the serene happiness of the righteous to bend with yearning pity on the poor erring soul wandering in the desert where no water is: that for angels too the misery of one casts so tremendous a shadow as to eclipse the bliss of ninety-nine. (Chapter XXII)

    Poetry Friday - In sickness

    I am not feeling so great today (just wrecked and have quite a sore throat - and there has been contact with Whooping Cough at work, which I am hoping to avoid), so decided to use one of my large stockpile of sick days. So, since I like being spontaneous when I can, I decided to make today's poem John Donne's Hymn to God, My God, in my Sickness. John Donne was obviously terminally ill, and I am fairly sure I am not, but it is a great poem. (It's so annoying that blogger removes indents. Does anyone know how to leave them there?)

    Hymn to God, My God, in my Sickness
    by John Donne

    Since I am coming to that holy room,
    Where, with thy choir of saints for evermore,
    I shall be made thy music; as I come
    I tune the instrument here at the door,
    And what I must do then, think here before.

    Whilst my physicians by their love are grown
    Cosmographers, and I their map, who lie
    Flat on this bed, that by them may be shown
    That this is my south-west discovery,
    Per fretum febris, by these straits to die,

    I joy, that in these straits I see my west;
    For, though their currents yield return to none,
    What shall my west hurt me? As west and east
    In all flat maps (and I am one) are one,
    So death doth touch the resurrection.

    Is the Pacific Sea my home? Or are
    The eastern riches? Is Jerusalem?
    Anyan, and Magellan, and Gibraltar,
    All straits, and none but straits, are ways to them,
    Whether where Japhet dwelt, or Cham, or Shem.

    We think that Paradise and Calvary,
    Christ's cross, and Adam's tree, stood in one place;
    Look, Lord, and find both Adams met in me;
    As the first Adam's sweat surrounds my face,
    May the last Adam's blood my soul embrace.

    So, in his purple wrapp'd, receive me, Lord;
    By these his thorns, give me his other crown;
    And as to others' souls I preach'd thy word,
    Be this my text, my sermon to mine own:
    "Therefore that he may raise, the Lord throws down."

    Thursday, March 05, 2009

    The house inspection #2

    So we have been notified that the inspection has been delayed until next Thursday. Now everything is all spic and span for nothing. Oh well, I guess you could say there is no harm done.

    A house inspection

    This afternoon we have a house inspection, which my new flatmate is facilitating. This is the first time this has happened to me while I was still actually living in a rental property. It’s not a bad idea as I have changed over flatmates and names are changing on the lease. Still, it’s a little disconcerting having someone come and have a critical look through the way you are living. Not that I think we have anything to worry about – there are no holes in the walls, tears in the carpet, fungus colonies in the bathroom and it’s clean and tidy by anybody’s standards (well, by my standards anyway, but I come from a long line of a formidably clean family, in which inviting people over means you do things like wash the curtains - I’d defy anyone to go to my Nanna’s house and find dust, grime or germs).

    All that said I never can quite clear my desk of stuff. I always have bits of paper and thingamebobs hanging about which don’t seem to have anywhere else to go. And I also never seem to know what to do with those clothes you have already worn, which don’t need washing yet, but which you don’t want to put back in the drawer either. I’ve dealt with those for this afternoon though. Hopefully we are allowed to stay living there.

    Tuesday, March 03, 2009

    Faith and Deficit

    So I read this article in the NY Times Opinion, via a link from this blog post, which I arrived at via some other blog. Not what you’d expect to read in the NY Times. Go and read it and decide for yourself whether Stanley Fish has or has not basically told people the gospel.

    Monday, March 02, 2009

    Adelaide and the Last Ride premiere

    Apologies for the lack of Poetry Friday last week. I had planned to schedule one on Thursday, but then one of those drop-your-plans-to-respond-to-this things came up, and I didn't get to it. Then I needed to get up before the crack of dawn on Friday to go to Adelaide for the weekend. I'd set the alarm for 4:40 am, then woke up at 3:30am anyway, tossed about for next the half hour or so, then got up. But that was just the horrible start to a fabulous weekend.

    I went to Adelaide with an old friend from Tamworth, who now lives in Sydney too, to visit an old friend from Sydney, who now lives in Adelaide, with her parents and her little 20-month-old daughter. But we specifically went this weekend to coincide with the Adelaide Film Festival and the premiere of a film directed by another old friend from Tamworth, Glendyn Ivin, called Last Ride, which I have written about here. We were a bit naïve in that we hadn't thought to book tickets earlier when we should have, and then each screening was completely sold out, so Glendyn was doing his best but told us to turn up and join the stand-by queue and see what happened then also invited us to the after party.

    So, we thought we'd just go and say hello and if we couldn't get in to the movie then so be it. When we got to the cinema there was a red carpet out front and all and it was just so exciting! When Glendyn arrived I dashed over just to say hello and he put two tickets in my hand and said "I've given you my ticket, but I think they'll let me in". How cool! It even has his name on it. There were three of us and only two tickets, so our other friend waited in the stand by queue and also got in, which was just great.

    The film was truly superb. You must go and see it. It will be shown in Sydney at the film festival in June, and then goes to general release on the 2nd of July. It's not the sort of film I would normally rush out to see for entertainment value, because it's intense, it's disturbing and it just might haunt me forever. But I was pleasantly surprised on the "brutal" front. I simply do not cope with suspense or violence in movies, and so I was expecting this film to be quite harrowing and that I would just have to steel myself, close my eyes for a good portion and endure it. But you really don't see much of what is brutal, and there is much else in it such that afterwards some could say to Glendyn "it's just beautiful". He has produced something quite amazing, the likes of which I don’t think I have ever seen in a feature film. It’s worth watching, even just to observe what happens with the music. I won't tell you anything about the story, because you need to watch it without knowing what comes.

    Chatting to Glendyn afterwards he mentioned how they found the wrecked-car yard featured in the film on one of their reconnaissance trips and decided that they had to use it — and that because the film is called Last Ride and wrecked-car yards are full of cars that have taken their last ride, and this film is just one story, but out there are many stories ... I will never be able to look at an unsightly wrecked-car yard again.

    Here are some pictures. This one is Glendyn with the two producers Nicholas Cole and Antonia Barnard, his wife Natalie Poole and a guy called Mike. After this curious little huddle out the front is when we were handed our tickets.

    Below are two old friends from Tamworth, Katrina and Jill, with Natalie. Jill, on the right, was one of my youth group leaders.

    I took a bunch of photos without the flash so I wouldn't be disruptive, which didn't turn out on my unsophisticated camera. But in this one is Glendyn, Hugo Weaving and the amazing little Tom Russell.

    This is most of the cast and crew out the front (note the plastic chairs they set up down the front of the theatre to let more people in).

    And here we are after wards at the party. I am the weird looking person on the left with the dead-straight hair. My friends did that to me, just for fun. I don't know that I like it that straight, but you have to try these things. I've also got the highest shoes on ever, because I borrowed them off my friends Mum. We are film premiere nincompoops and didn't think about the fact that we'd need to dress up (and were travelling hand luggage only), and also didn't know about the party afterwards till we got to Adelaide, so we made do.

    For the rest of the weekend we had fun gallavanting about the South Australian countryside, including the Barossa Valley on Saturday (once we finally got out of bed after the biggest day ever - the film didn't start till 9 pm (remember that early morning!) and the party was afterwards) and McLaren Vale on Sunday. On Saturday afternoon we went to Maggie Beer's farm shop and ate tarts out on the verandah overlooking the pond. I also stocked up on quince paste. Then we did Peter Lehmanns winery. It's all so scenic. Before the Barossa Valley we went in search of scenes out of MacLeod's Daughters. I didn't watch this program, so it meant nothing to me, but here are my friends out the front of the pub featured in the show, complete with a girl on horseback who just happened to come by.

    Life was certainly different with a 20-month-old along, but she is a very sweet little thing and we had a lot of fun — making up songs, playing with anything and everything, interpreting the babble, jumping on the trampoline and just generally being the sorts of gooses you can be in the presence of children.