Sunday, June 29, 2014

The strangest Christian symbol ever

Here’s a little curiosity out of church history for your weekend (photo instagrammed this morning in my church).

I’m developing quite the fascination with this image of a blood-letting pelican, I must say. I will be revealing elements of my life if I tell you that I work for an organisation that features it on its crest, which prompted me to question what on earth for, and I have been researching since.

I’ve read that it appears quite frequently on coats of arms and heraldry (as the "Pelican-in-her-Piety"), though I can’t say as I have noticed before. It’s the very strangest thing, harkening back to days medieval and myths of bestiary from the 12th Century.

Apparently, it was once believed that Pelicans were particularly devoted to their young, and that a pelican would pierce her own breast to feed her young her own blood (see the bottom of this wiki). And from there it was (apparently!) a short leap to this bleeding pelican coming to symbolise the passion of Jesus and the Eucharist. This is perhaps owing to an association drawn in Psalm 102 vs 6 where Christ says he is “like a pelican of the wilderness” (though the identity of the birds mentioned there is uncertain, and it also reads as the Psalmist speaking). The website for the Pelican Foundation site of the Anglican church here describes it thus: "The symbolism of the pelican originates from Medieval Europe where the mother pelican’s devotion and attentiveness is to the extent of providing her own blood for her young when no other food is available. Within Christianity this imagery became a symbol of the passion of Jesus and of the Eucharist. The Pelican symbolises Jesus our Redeemer, the One who gives His life for our redemption."

Thomas Aquinas once wrote a Eucharistic hymn Adoro te devote referring to Christ as the “pelican of mercy” or “good pelican” of "loving pelican", believe that or not. And in Shakespeare’s Hamlet Act IV, scene V, Laertes says to the King:

"To his good friends thus wide I'll open my arms;
And like the life-rendering pelican,
Repast them with my blood."

Tell me you didn’t all understand what that meant when you read Hamlet in school? Keats also uses the line "Nurtured like a pelican brood" in Endymion (from here) (though which interpretation he means is not obvious). And if you join the Society for Creative Anachronism, which is a whole other piece of strangeness, they have 'The Order of the Pelican'.

Of course, it’s a total myth that pelicans have ever engaged in this particular act of parental devotion (and it would be a greater myth if you took the interpretation of infanticide and remorse). The wildlife biologist in me couldn’t help looking that up. I have something of a running gag with one of the Bishops here about this blood-letting pelican, and I consider it part of my duty to offer random pieces of pelican trivia. In conversation some weeks before I was telling this Bishop that I was a wanna-be arts student, even though I have a science degree, and that fed into a later conversation in which I was also saying that I can appreciate a little symbolism and that we don’t need to throw the baby out with the bathwater on all Christian symbolism. But then later, after a conversation about bleeding pelicans, when I told him that it was a myth that pelicans ever behaved in this way, he says “now you’re being the scientist – you need to go back to being the arts student and run with the symbolism”. Fair enough. I’m not one to let the facts get in the way of a good metaphor, or a good stained glass window (plug "pelican in her piety stained glass" into google images and see what you get).

So now you know.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Previews of Lila

In other news, I am eagerly awaiting the release of Lila, Marilynne Robinson's next novel. The character of Lila was something of an enigma in the earlier novels, and I'm looking forward to her story. How splendid does it sound from these reviews:
Lila is a superb creation ... The courtship of the couple—John Ames: tentative, shy, and awkward; Lila: naïve, suspicious, wary, full of dread—will endure as a classic set piece of character revelation, during which two achingly lonely people discover the comfort of marital love . . . Robinson carefully crafts this provocative and deeply meaningful spiritual search for the meaning of existence. What brings the couple together is a joyous appreciation of the beauty of the natural world and the possibility of grace. —Publishers Weekly

An anguished pastoral, a tableau of decency and compassion that is also an angry and devastating indictment of moral cowardice and unrepentant, unacknowledged sin . . . Beautiful. —A. O. Scott, The New York Times Book Review
And there's also a sneak peak of the text here.

Monday, June 23, 2014


I know I’m not really allowed to post this, it being an article written by a man to other men, but firstly, it did make me laugh (just whatever you do don’t even glance at the appalling comments – that’s a special little piece of the internet). "Vicinitizing" needs to be a word. And secondly, while it’s not saying women aren’t also to blame, I don’t know too many women who’d be complaining about this particular proposal.

(The truth is, I am completely exhausted with the whole scenario myself, and with finding myself in situations (perhaps this is just my flawed perceptions) where, for reasons I never really understand, I feel like a man is leaving it to me to work things out, and to take action and risk everything (and might get cross or upset with me or blame me for it all if I don’t) – which I find a very stressful place to be (and obviously it comes about because the guy is a bit "whatever" about things, so it is also discouraging). And I just scratch my head and think, well he is the guy and anytime he’d like to step up and sort it out or communicate something, he is welcome to. I like this ‘real, live relationship’ idea. That is all.)

And to add to that here is a little article from The School of Life about why we're probably not such great communicators:
It’s no surprise if we sometimes think that communication will never work out. We have failed so often in the past. Our history is full of failed attempts. We’ve tried to tell our partner something and it hasn’t worked. So, we give up. Forever.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

A night at the Canberra Theatre

Since I am sharing music, I haven't told blog world about my visit to Canberra Theatre last weekend. I happened to be in the right place at the right time at work a few weeks ago. Apparently one fellow at work won two tickets to a show, and for some reason he didn't want them, so he gave them to another fellow, who doesn't live in Canberra and goes home on weekends, so he gave them to me. So I found myself in possession of two free tickets to the Glen Miller Orchestra. At first I thought I should give them away to a couple, who had someone to go with and who could have a nice evening out together, but then I got selfish and decided that I'd like to go myself. I hadn't been to the Canberra Theatre before, and wanted to see how it was. So, I asked a friend who I thought might enjoy, and we had a night out.

I can't pretend I knew much about 1940s jazz or Glenn Miller's orchestral arrangements before I went, but the joy of free tickets is that that doesn't matter. I discovered that Glenn Miller's music is all surprisingly bright and cheery considering the era it came out of, and the events of the world at the time, and my friend and I weren't so sure whether that was the way of the people to escape it or to actually deal with it.

The fellow who conducted the orchestra, as well as playing several instruments, also introduced each song and told us some of the history of what was occurring in the war when it was composed, so the evening was quite educational.

As well as the orchestra, there were a couple of solo singers, the Swing Kittens (three girls who harmonised like many of the vocal bands of the day) and the Broadway Swing Dancers, which kept the evening varied and entertaining. I enjoyed it, and it's my kind of melodious jazz (I do find that some modern improv jazz gets rather tuneless, and I can only listen for so long).

Here are a couple of phone photos of the evening, and below that I have posted Glen Miller's arrangement of the ballad 'White Cliffs of Dover', which, while probably the saddest song played, is by no means mournful. Perhaps I am just revealing that I listen to too much melancholy music that I found all of this music rather cheery. But my friend commented that she thinks the White Cliffs of Dover is eschatological, so be ye cheered.

Saturday, June 21, 2014


I don't spend a whole lot of time listening to Cold Play, but I keep watching this video, because they filmed it just a few days ago about a block from where I lived in Sydney. This was my very local strip of King St Newtown, if you will. If you walked across the park from my place and to the end of the street you ended up in the square next to the Town Hall where they end up in this video (which was full of markets like white elephant stalls on weekends, and is across the road from the train station) and I have walked down the block they walk down singing countless times. Love that street.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

I give up

Everyone is allowed a couple of these in a lifetime: some little personal epiphany that to others, no doubt, is the sort of thing that belongs on an inspiration poster with a basket of kittens and daisies. But the other night I was thinking about the idea of letting things go, and handing them over to God. And I was recalling all those clichés you hear about God takes you to the end of yourself so you learn to trust him and how his strength is made perfect in our weakness (well, that one is in the bible so I probably shouldn’t call it a cliché) and how you don’t know Christ is all you need till Christ is all you have etc. And I recently read snippets such as this in, you guessed it, One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp:
Humbly let go. Let go of trying to do, let go of trying to control ... let go of my own way, let go of my own fears. Let God blow His wind, His trials, oxygen for joy’s fire. Leave the hand open and be. Be at peace. Bend the knee and be small and let God give what God chooses to give because He only gives love and whisper surprised thanks ... Fullness of joy is discovered only in the empting of will ...
And I was pondering how it’s unfortunate that it takes us (me!) so long sometimes, but often it’s only when you are completely ready to give up, that you finally give things up to God.

And do you see what I did there? “Give up”?

I actually started to think about the origins of the phrase “give up” and why we say that (because I’m like that). And you know, apparently it’s from the mid 12th century and originally meant “surrender”. (It seems it only came to mean something like “lose hope” in the 1500s. See the bottom of this page etc.) How nice. I think you can all see where I am going with this ...

See, I was actually having a little conversation with God the other night, in which I told him that if he was going to make certain things so difficult he was just going to have to do them himself, because I couldn’t do it anymore, but I suspect that’s actually been the point all along. Now that there is nothing left that I can do about it (not unless I just want to destroy myself in doing it), I have to finally let God take care of it.

And so I have decided to change the meaning for myself of “I give up”, and also what I do when I am at that point, and use it rather as a prompt to surrender things to God.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

What "no thanks" does to your brain

I got the Frankie Magazine in the mail today. I haven’t actually sat down to read it yet, but I did a quick flick and was arrested by a pithy little article on rejection, called thanks but no thanks by Caro Cooper. How's this for a curious little piece of science slipped in amongst the emotional descriptions and the high-brow literature:
But even running away can’t eradicate the pain. That’s because the brain uses the same neon-lit paths for rejection as it does for physical pain. And while we can’t relive the intensity of physical pain, we can relive the full force of the pain of rejection. Again and again and again. Wherever you run to, the pain comes with you. The best [worst] part of this is that while we are smarting from the rejection, our IQs are actually measurably lower. Luckily this dumbness passes — at least that’s what the scientists think.

I often take solace in quotes about rising up, soldiering on. But when I’m wallowing in rejection-fuelled self pity it’s the bleaker ones that appeal. Like this one from Chekhov: “There are still many more days of failure ahead, whole seasons of failure, things will go terribly wrong, you will have huge disappointments.” Thanks, Anton.
I can’t verify either the brain pathways or the IQ intel. But I do find that quite fascinating (refer to my earlier fascination with reading The Brain That Changes Itself). It gives a whole new meaning to the old “wounded ego”. Though it’s also a wonder I have the IQ to tie my shoelaces.

Monday, June 09, 2014

A long weekend ramble

I have been doing freelance work today and some of yesterday, but I now need someone in the office to do something before I can proceed, so I just took myself off to a café to doodle and get out of the house (it’s wet and cold here today), and ended up writing this instead. It is a drag sometimes having to do freelance work in what would otherwise be free time, but I am thankful for the option that I have to do it and get paid for it from the comfort of my own home. And it’s not as though I have a whole lot of other things to do in any case. Well, actually, that is only partly true, in that I have plenty of other things I would rather be doing even at home, like reading books and doing crochet and perhaps writing. But I don’t have a raging social life or lots of other activities to be doing, at present.

It’s funny when you move to a new place; if you know anyone there at all in advance, there can be people you thought you might be friends with, who basically aren’t at all friendly or with whom things don’t work out, and then there are other people you didn’t think would so friendly with, who turn out to be the people who keep inviting you to things, and so for a while you just go with the inviters. And I believe that is OK. I’ve been on enough welcoming committees and so on to know that you don’t expect the new person to take the initiative, and you don’t make superficial judgments about who people are and what they might need based on appearances, and so I appreciate the people who have taken initiative towards me, and who see deeply enough to perceive that I may well be tall and look confident etc, but that doesn’t convey something worthy of different treatment, and I could use a little kindness and friendliness and encouragement as much as the next person.

I have been going along to the morning service of a church here, where dear friends are the assistant minister and family, and that is all good, and it has been excellent to be involved with some families. However, there aren’t many single people, and I think now that I am more settled here I need to find some additional ways to meet some. The thing I find as a single person is that I don’t mind going home by myself every evening after work, because I have been at work all day and had some interaction with people, and I don’t mind so much whether or not there are things on after church, because I have had a little chatting with people over a cup of tea, but it’s Saturdays that can descend to depressing, when the whole day can go past and I haven’t so much as spoken to anyone. So I need some Saturday people. And in my experience families are often busy doing their family things on Saturdays, which is fair enough because families have their own relationship priorities, but that is another reason why single people need other single people, because they are often more available and looking for company at the same times.

It has been wonderful to have my Aunt and Uncle here also. My Uncle is the closest thing to a father, and to a man who demonstrates to me, personally, something of what the love of Christ might be like, that I’ve had, and my Aunt is lovely and would do anything for you and likes to be creative. And it’s comforting to know that should something go wrong for me here in Canberra I have some folks whom I know will be there.

So, life is going along well, barring one personal stress (about which there is nothing more I can do, and I just have to let it go and leave it to God), and I do like Canberra. Anything I did in Sydney I can do here, with greater ease. And I am endeavouring to dwell on the good things that are, and be thankful, and not on the things that are not.

Here’s another little quote from One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp to that effect:
Though my marriage tree may not bud and though my crop of children may fail and my work produce little yield, though there is no money in the bank and no dream left in the heart, though others may choose different ways to live their one life, till my last heaving breath, I will fight to the death for this: “I will take joy” (Habbukkuk 3:18, ESV).”

I am enjoying work a lot thus far. While it might not be the most challenging and stimulating thing I am capable of there is plenty of variety. So far I have been out into the country to assist in a weekend workshop, and off to external Executive and Council meetings to take minutes (taking meeting minutes is a whole new world, but I am getting the hang of it, and meanwhile I listen in on all sorts of fascinating behind-the-scenes goings on), and organised a conference and just generally been involved in worthwhile things. Then the most absurd thing happened on Friday morning. I was told that dramas and calamities in this “business” always happen on Fridays before long weekends, or Christmas Eve ... And so on Friday, before a long weekend, one came my way. It’s a bummer to be involved in a good drama and not be able to talk about it, but unfortunately I need to keep this one under wraps. It was a drama of a high order though, I tell you, for my introduction to such things, which a person can’t help finding just a little bit exciting.

And now I should post a poem or something shouldn’t I? If I find one I will be back.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

The nephew models the latest crochet project

Hello neglected friends. I’m rather swamped with what the tides of life are washing my way at the moment, to the point that I even forgot to properly photograph my last crochet project, but I can at least show you that from the one lousy phone picture I took to send my Mum, because she was knitting something similar and wanted to see mine. So, here is a little cardy I finished some time ago for that precious little nephew who survived all the dramas earlier in the year (photo showing the fuzzy green blanket from my childhood which has taken a permanent place on my couch lately).

After finishing this I wondered why I hadn’t spaced more buttons out all down the front of this cardy (instead of just mindlessly following the pattern and putting three high up), which would give it less of on old-fashioned baby look. Next time!

And here is another bad phone photo of him modelling it, sent my way by my sister. I know I am biased, and this little fellow is precious simply for still being here, but he is quite super cute don’t you think? My cardy is too big as he is on the small side, from all those months when he was so sick, but it keeps his hands warm apparently!