The Good Shepherd


We haven't had a Holy Picture for a while, so I thought I'd delve into the collection today and bring you this gorgeous image of the Good Shepherd.
Now, many of you will know that I regularly attend the Metropolitan Community Church of the Good Shepherd, so the Good Shepherd is a particularly resonant and meaningful image for me.
I've always loved this image of Christ as a shepherd, and of course it was particularly meaningful to his contemporaries, many of whom raised sheep and had worked as shepherds. Now I know that a lot of you out there would resent being cast as mindless sheep being ministered to by an all-powerful master possessed of a big stick, and I can totally understand that objection. But the Bible reminds us that the Shepherd would die in order to protect his beautiful and innocent sheep, and I am more comfortable with that.
And who couldn't love the 23rd Psalm, which reminds us that if a shepherd is looking out for us, we shall always be protected and provided for?
And don't get me going on the exquisite imagery of the Agnus Dei, or I will be in raptures for days.

A-Framed Buildings


I'm a child of the 70s.
In fact, I was born in 1970, which tells you exactly how old I am. I've always found this to be a very convenient year to be born, because it's always easy to work out my age. I am bad at maths, and if it wasn't for the fact that I was born at the beginning of a decade, I'd have no way of working out how old I was from one year to the next. I don't know how other people do it.
Now, the 70s was the golden age of A-Frame architecture. These alpine-inspired houses (and wasn't everything Swiss groovy in the 70s? Think fondue...) popped up everywhere, and I always longed to live in one. It was my special dream to have a tiny little room right at the top of the roof, possibly with a little balcony - probably inspired by the BBC production of Heidi, which was also very big when I was young.
I don't know why such houses were constructed in tropical North Queensland, where I grew up - there was never any snow to slide off their steeply sloping roofs. But people had them, and I was consumed with envy.
Of course, there aren't really many around any more - in fact, the only A-Frame buildings left tend to be church buildings. For some reason the A-Frame was big in Australian ecclesiastical circles - maybe because the structure carried a hint of sacred geometry, and because it was a cheap way of building a church that stood out in an age where spires and stone and vaulted arches were no longer possible.
There's a classic example just down the road from me at the Cabramatta Uniting Church. I always smile to see it, and I seriously think it should be heritage listed. The inside, too, is almost completely untouched - and let's face it, it doesn't see much wear and tear, with its minuscule and elderly congregation.
So let's save the A-Frames, and preserve some of the glory of the 1970s.

Others


Isn't it interesting how sometimes the Universe needs you to get a message really urgently? And that message will come in several forms in a short space of time, and you'd need to be wilfully ignorant not to get it?
I've been dealing with questions of grief for much of this year. A friend has been plunged into a savage and self-destructive grief which has had an impact on all those around her, and has caused me to question most of the popularly received wisdom on grief. And then my dear cat, a companion for 17 years, had to be euthanased and I was suddenly experiencing my own grief. And then, a couple of weeks later, my darling, beloved Grandma passed away after a truly horrible two weeks of slow dying. I've also had an ongoing and painful health problem which seems to be unchangeable, though I'm going in to have surgery on Monday in an effort to fix it.
And so I have been grieving and struggling with grief and pain, saying lots of prayers and thinking about my own loss.
But this week at work I picked up by chance a book called Dear Lama Zopa, a book of letters to the Lama and his responses. I flicked to the section on death, and in it the good Lama had written the most beautiful and affecting series of observations on the Buddhist perspectives on death and dying. He says that we need to remember that our own suffering is shared with every single other being, and that our own grief and our own prayers must not be just for us, but for all others who have experienced this.
And then, later in the day, I heard Jenny Kee on the radio talking about the death of her own partner, and how a Lama had advised her to remember, not just her own partner's death, but the death of all those who experience suffering and torment.
A day later I sat next to a woman at an event who spoke of nursing her dying mother at almost the exact time I was with my dying Grandmother, and of the immense privilege it was to be able to pray, not only for her but for all mothers who are dying and all those who have lost their mothers.
So I got the message.
My own losses are such a small part of the scheme of things. I pray now for all others who experience loss and suffering.

Cockatoo Island

I went to see the Sydney Biennale on the weekend - it was my last chance, and I'd been putting it off for months. I always love the Biennale, and would love to visit some of the others around the world some day. I always love the spirit of fun and adventure, the youthful exuberance of naive artists thumbing their nose at an establishment that is sponsoring them lavishly. Yes, I know it contains much of the same old agitprop, but it puts a smile on my face to know that there are still people out there keeping the dream alive who haven't become cynical and world-weary old beasts like me.
Some of the highlights for me were a series of photos of an artist being kicked down some stairs, a dead horse hanging from the ceiling, and a table full of innocuous looking objects from Spain that might all be used in a terrorist activity.
But the real star of the show was Cockatoo Island. This immense, unused shipping depot is a brilliant site, and absolutely perfect for a large-scale public event. There were free ferries from outside the MCA, which meant that on a sunny Sunday we were lucky to get a seat.
Cockatoo Island! What a revelation!

A huge place, filled with tunnels and abandoned pieces of industrial equipment and vast empty warehouses used to construct ships.


The whole place could have stood as its own art installation, and indeed, most of the pieces on display were dwarfed by the incredible industrial beauty of the site.


Probably most successful was the sound installation in the dog leg tunnel, which really just built on the atmosphere of the terrifying, dark rail tunnel and turned it into a scene from Blair Witch Project.
We spent an exhausting afternoon exploring the exhibitions and the island - an absolutely amazing time.

Mosque



                     I didn't mention it, but I went to the Auburn Mosque open day last weekend.

Now, in all of my travels, I had until then never actually been inside a mosque, though I have ached to. I have always just been too terrified - in the same way that I am terrified to turn up at a Synagogue for service. There's just something about those religions of the book that make me turn and run. Same goes for Orthodox churches. Something inside says "They'll all look at me and recognise that I am not one of them, and then they will turn on me and scream 'What are you doing here, infidel?'"
So the open day was the perfect route for me. Lots of ordinary non-mosque type of folks, a show bag, and a gorgeous mosque filled to overflowing with the curious and cowardly.
I thought the building was beautiful, and the whole event was extraordinarily glossy and well-organised - we even got a free lunch.
Now I have a hankering to see all the other mosques of Sydney.

Pews


I love church pews.
There is something deeply satisfying about traditional church architecture, and I am never happier than when kicking back on a hardwood, un-cushioned church pew, preferably one with a stand behind the pew in front that holds one's hymn book and bible.
The average pew is an item uniquely designed to inflict the maximum agony in the least possible time. And any attempts made to render an old-fashioned wooden pew comfortable only serves to make it more agonising. I once spent the best part of a week paralysed from spending three whole days luxuriating on the cushioned pews at Pitt St Uniting for a conference. Never have I known such pain. And those damned cushions, latter-day additions, were what caused it. If my butt had been resting on that cold, hard wood, my mind would have warned me earlier that I was cruising for a bruising.
Pews are always at that perfectly unnatural angle which renders any attempt at slumping or making oneself comfortable utterly futile.
But for all their faults, there is nothing more comforting than a gloriously varnished pew, scratched and scuffed, possibly sporting a little bit of scratched-in graffiti (though this is largely absent from Protestant pews - it would seem that Anglican and Catholic kiddies are more inclined to deface church property).
Nothing breaks my heart more than to see churches selling off their pews in an effort to modernise (a sadly frequent occurrence at Anglican churches across Sydney), and replacing them with those insipid brown or grey upholstered-plastic chairs with fabric seats now ubiquitous in churches of all persuasions.
A friend of mine once dropped by a church that was renovating back in the 90s and scored some exquisite pews that were being sold off at $10 a piece. Occasionally, if I'm feeling nostalgic, I'll swing by their house to take a constitutional, forcing myself onto the narrow pew that now graces their living room. And I don't leave till the vertebrae in my back are singing, and I am clutching my sides with pain.

Il Porcellino


Now, I am a superstitious soul.
Always have been. As a child I would pore through books from the public library on superstitions, curses and the occult, and self-consciously adopt superstitions that had never previously been current in my family. So there were no 13s in my life, I gave ladders and black cats a wide berth, and if I spilt the salt, I would ostentatiously throw a pinch over my shoulder. And then there were other, more personal superstitions, ones probably related to my own little strain of obsessive compulsive disorder more than anything else. Like never sleeping in a room with closed windows, or never drinking water from the hot tap, and never letting raw meat get anywhere near milk (perhaps I was Jewish in a past life?).
When I was old enough to travel to places like Thailand and Vietnam I was in 7th heaven, seeing whole societies that were immersed in superstitious practices, many of which I immediately picked up. The Thai, in particular, are great lovers of lucky shrines and statues, as anyone who has spent any time in Bangkok could attest.
So I have always been a devotee of Il Porcellino, the beautiful statue outside Sydney Hospital said to grant wishes to anyone who throws some coins in the box below him and rubs his nose. I adore this bronze pig, and will go out of my way to rub his snout and make a few wishes. And, IMHO, he is a regular granter of boons! I won't disclose too much, but take it from me, almost all of the wishes I have made in front of him have come true.
The exquisite statue was a gift to the state of New South Wales from an Italian Marchessa, and all the money thrown at him goes to the hospital.

The Catholic Church


I have a love-hate relationship with the Catholic church.
At various times in my life I have seriously considered going over to Rome, but the monolith of the Church and the viciousness of much of its dogma always ends up repelling me before it's too late.
There is much that is beautiful about the church - its history, its art and music, nuns and monks, commitment to social justice, the adoration of Mary, just to name a few. And so many of its practices are genuinely helpful - just consider the rosary, the Stations of the Cross, lectio divina, observation of Lent, confession, novenas, holy pictures....the list is endless. All of those things are capable of capturing my spiritual imagination, and frequently do. And then there are the Saints, and all the mythology surrounding them. Heaven!
But there is much that I despise, much that is representative of the worst kinds of bigotry and that contributes to the suffering of the world. The church's continued homophobia and sexism. Its triumphalism, and the immovable belief in the superiority, not just of Christianity, but of Catholicism in particular. I could never, in all good conscience, be part of such a massively immovable institution.
But I continue to adore many of its individual members, and so many of its professional representatives - the Benedictines, the Franciscans and so many others.

Mary


You all know of my special devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and she is particularly to the fore of my mind at the moment when I am thinking so much about the World Mother. It's also the Feast of the Assumption on Friday, when Marian devotion pretty much reaches its pinnacle.
This is a pic of the beautiful Mary at St. Patrick's, Church Hill, where I often go to burn a candle.
I have also become particularly enamoured of the new image of the Virgin at St. Mary's Cathedral, the photo-realist Our Lady of the Southern Cross which was especially commissioned for World Youth Day. This is an unrepentantly anglo-saxon Mary, the Virgin as she'd almost certainly appear in Cronulla, replete with chubby little blonde haired Christ child. It is an exquisite piece of popular art, destined to become one of the most prized pieces of religious kitsch in the world. I was mortified to see that there are as yet no images of it available in the handy St. Mary's gift shop - I am waiting to shop up a storm. Indeed, it is very difficult to find a reproduction of it on-line.
I see that a family in the Philippines has witnessed the miracle of the BVM appearing in the glass of their TV cabinet!
Why don't these things ever happen to me?

Kwan Yin at the Lodge


It is interesting how Kwan Yin continues to touch the lives of so many people. I am just glad that I can be helpful in introducing her to new people's lives.
Last Friday I gave my Kwan Yin talk at the Theosophical Society, and though the numbers were smaller than usual - it was the night of the Olympic opening ceremony - the people that were there seemed to really "get it" and many were touched and inspired by the example of the Bodhisattva of Compassion.
I should add that I was very ill that night - I had spent the afternoon in bed, but the show must go one, and I didn't want to disappoint anyone who might be a spiritual seeker and might serve to benefit from the influence of the Goddess of Mercy. It was touch and go a couple of times, but despite my clammy-skinned appearance, no-one seemed to notice that I wasn't in my top form.
Yesterday at work a beautiful Japanese girl came to the counter, and in the course of our conversation I mentioned that I had just given a talk on Kwan Yin. At the mention of this, an incredibly joyful expression came across her face and she said simply, "She is my special protector."
Mine too.

Headache


OK, well I pretty much always have a headache, and I try to avoid blogging about it 'cos it's kind of dull. Plus I've been reading Wallace Wattles, and he says we shouldn't talk about things we don't want in our lives.
But I have a shocking headache tonight. I can barely move.
I know I've been building up to it, having had a low-level headache every night for about a week now. But today it's turned into a doozy.
I had to drive to Penrith, a headache inducing activity all on its own, but then this afternoon I also had to go to the optometrist, and he did all sorts of crazy things with my eyes, including putting in some of those nasty drops that make your eyes swell up. By the time he was finished with me I was close to throwing up, and when I got outside there was a massive rainstorm going on, and I had to stand under an awning in Cabramatta for the best part of 40 minutes. It was surreal.
So I've taken a crap-load of Mersyndol, in an effort to dull the pain. I know it won't take away my headache, but it will at least dull the edges of my consciousness, and maybe cause me to pass out and hope that tomorrow this will all be a bad dream.
I know I probably take too much Mersyndol - I have probably become totally codeine tolerant by now, and I do have to take bigger and bigger doses. But what are my options? It's that or never leaving the house, and I know which I'd rather.

The Blake Prize


I love the Blake Prize - it is one of the most consistently interesting art prizes in the country, and this year should be even more interesting with the inclusion of a literary prize (which I simply must enter next year!).
It has been particularly controversial these past few years, which means that the selection committee is doing something right. Right on schedule, this morning's Herald has a front page splash about one of the Blake judges resigning. A certain Christopher Allen has resigned in a fit of entirely redundant pique at the inclusion of - shock horror - a controversial artwork. I wonder why someone would agree to become a judge if he wasn't willing to engage with challenging ideas about the intersections between art and religion in the contemporary world? Genuinely perplexing. Still, it meant that we got to see some of this year's entries, including the allegedly offensive Adam Cullen painting (the one resigned over) and an exquisite image of Corey Worthington as Christ - which sends me down all sorts of other avenues, including contemplating doing a picture of Keith, Nicole and little Sunday as the Holy Family.
Anyway, bring on the Prize - it is always provoking and brings matters of the spirit to the front pages of the newspapers. I know that the controversies can often bring heartaches to the Prize's organisers, but I love them!

St Patrick's


One of my favourite places in the City is St. Patrick's, Church Hill - right near Wynard.
It is a gorgeous church inside, with a handy little shrine to the Virigin.
Outside is a nice little garden grotto for praying in, but best of all is a small cafe in an old chapel that serves tea and sandwiches, and is surely the City's best kept secret! I love going there, and it is the perfect place to meet friends (though conversation should be kept to gentle levels - most of the other tables are occupied by elderly Catholic ladies discreetly dozing off).
I was there just the other day, meeting a dear old friend for lunch.

Hymnfest


I spent this afternoon at St. Stephen's Uniting on Macquarie St at their annual Hymnfest.
Now, spending an afternoon singing old-style hymns with a couple of hundred 70 year olds may not sound like a whole lot of fun, but dammit it was! The sound was absolutely glorious, all those voices helped out by a choir and the Youth Chamber Orchestra.
We did a whole host of old favourites, including Jerusalem and Great is Thy Faithfulness. The hymns were introduced by the resident minister, a charming man called the Rev. Dr. Matthew Jack. His charm was only enhanced by the fact that one day I too want to bear the appellation "Rev. Dr." - and it may be soon!
I fell in love with St. Stephen's, a rambling Art Nouveau pile of an old Presbyterian Church, containing just the right air of faded glamour and down-at-heel splendour. It's situated right across the road from State Parliament, and was the church that Fred Nile always wanted to get his hands on - to the Uniting Church's eternal credit they never let him anywhere near it.
I plan to go back someday soon for a proper service, and I hope and pray that they make their wonderful Hymnfest a more regular event.

Nam Mo Quan The Am Bo Tat!


The Gentle Mother Kwan Yin hears all the sounds of the universe, and today I am sending her my prayers for healing.
Here is a pic of the Kwan Yin at a temple in Quy Nhon City Vietnam.

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