A Prayer for Louise
This article continues from yesterday....
It started raining at Collinswood this morning. Rush hour rain is an interesting experience on a bike. There is something invigorating about riding with the hiss of water slushing against engine noise. There's an urge to pump and race. But rain riding is a different art. Rain brings out the best and worst in drivers. Some seem to admire, or pity, the riders in the rain. Others are more myopic than usual. I slid sideways on the Frome Road bike path as a driver paused for the woman 5 metres in front of me and then cut me off by crossing the path.
At Scots I let myself into the silence. The hiss of wet tires faded, leaving only a rumble of larger vehicles, as the heavy doors closed behind me. The alarm was off; Robert was in for organ practice. As I stood in the silence, Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring filled the church and hall, overpowering the last of the traffic noise. I was home.
Everything I was writing about yesterday began to happen.
Religious doctrines are a product of ritual and ethical observance, and make no sense unless they are accompanied by such spiritual exercises as yoga, prayer, liturgy and a consistently compassionate lifestyle. Skilled practice in these disciplines can lead to intimations of the transcendence we call God, Nirvana, Brahman or Dao. Without such dedicated practice, these concepts remain incoherent, incredible and even absurd. Karen Armstrong
For a second or two, I was somewhere else. This was the beautiful way; it was all in tune.
I thought about this as I carried the bike upstairs. The moment was tuneful only because I have been here before. I came to this church as I began to find some sense, and some answers in the Christian faith. I stayed within it, more or less, in the decades that followed. Not geographically, but within the practice.
I remembered, as I took my clothes down to the bathroom, that Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring used to play every morning on the ABC, when I was a little child. Each morning, as I prepared for school, this rich music introduced "Readings from the Bible." The ritual has been there for fifty years, and more.
Is this not simply a throwback to the safe warm kitchen of your childhood farmhouse, asks the skeptic? Are you not romantically remembering wheaten porridge, and a wood stove from a forgotten idealized past, and projecting this into the present? Indeed, I remember.
I remember the shock, as porridge was being stirred, as the assassination of John F. Kennedy was read out on the ABC news. And the strange breakfast the morning after my grandfather died. And my anger in the Gladstone Methodist Church, as all those people stood up the back, watching while we filed past his coffin. But we were in the church. And the ritual and the practice continued.
We sat in church gloomy and shocked, the night after Neil Cleggett was killed, in Year 12. Geoff Boyce comforted us. We sat in the chapel at college, after Rosemary Young fell off a mountain in Tasmania. Her parents bought hymn books, with her name in them, for the chapel. We stood under the huge eye-rock up on the ridge at Ernabella, as the sun beat down, and people were buried.
It's not romance. It's ritual and practice which brings us into the presence of something else. Or do we just imagine it? This is what faith is. It's not belief in a proposition. It's thinking carefully about the hints the soul receives, laying them out along side Logos, and deciding where to go. You can listen to the hints, or ignore them as imagination.
I boiled two jugs of water. I took them down to the cold, old caretaker's bathroom, and washed the grit and mud off my legs and out of my hair. No romance there. The organ played on.
And now... as I am revising this text, they tell me Louise, who was here and healthy last week, has died. What can one do besides long staring out the window at passing clouds and uncaring traffic? Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God*. Grieve. Say the prayers. This is the practice of faith.
Into your hands, O Lord
we humbly entrust our sister Louise
In this life you embraced her with your love;
deliver her now from every evil
and call her to eternal rest.
My soul is deprived of peace,
I have forgotten what happiness is;
I tell myself my future is lost,
all that I hoped for from the Lord.
But I will call this to mind,
as my reason to have hope:
The favors of the Lord are not exhausted,
his mercies are not spent;
They are renewed each morning,
so great is his faithfulness.
My portion is the Lord, says my soul;
therefore I will hope in him. Lamentations 3:17-18, 21-24
* Micah 6:8
An historical footnote
The weekday morning 'Readings from the Bible' was a particular focus of secularist antagonism. People who turned on the radio early to be sure to catch the news caught the Bible reading and some were infuriated by this intrusion into the working week of what they thought should be confined to Sundays. The Department, wanting to connect religion with life, had put a lot of work into securing this particular timeslot and were determined to keep it as long as they could. Alison Healey