Taking the Risk to Show You More.

Last night I was privileged to share in an evening with Rosemary Wanganeen, who works in grief counselling in Adelaide.

That sentence nowhere near expresses what Rosemary is and what she does. She is a proud Aboriginal woman, who has worked with her own pain of loss and grief, to distil the elements of healing that she can pass on to others. She is courageous, compassionate and generous and she shared her personal story with an astounding degree of vulnerability and open-ness.

Rosemary’s life is lived in faith and trust, as she learns to tap into the wisdom of her ancestors, using all her intuition to do her life’s work of healing.

She talked about how as humans we need to have faith and trust – in ourselves and in each other.

In response, I have decided tonight to go into trust and faith myself, and share with any readers, an aspect of who I am that I usually reveal only to selected friends. I usually only share such thoughts with people who I know share a common language of the heart.

Poetry is not much valued in our culture but I came to it almost by accident, as a young woman. I was a busy mother of a large family, also working and studying. There wasn’t much time for writing but the words kept coming in snatches tantalizing me. I took to writing down little fragments here and there, saving them for the school holidays when I could shape and play with them. I realized that what I was doing each January was writing poetry, that lovely form of words that emerges in images you didn’t know were there: sometimes forceful, sometimes soft and mysterious, but always revealing something deep deep down inside. You don’t just sit down and decide to write a poem – well, I don’t know for sure if other people do, but I can’t imagine it possible. When a poem comes from that hidden place, it comes as gift. When it is finished, I have learned something new.

Here is my gift of faith and trust in you .


                ADDRESSING THOU.


            They ask me to pray for them

             for their families their fears

            their lives really.

            Sometimes I ask them too.


            I don’t understand prayer at all

            even when it is a comfort.

            I do understand something of love and its bruised nature.

            I sit in the dark and wrap them

            and all the grieving world

            in my tattered scraps of love

            or prayer

            into the warmth.

            It is not a plea or making a bargain

            just holding them up to Love

            with the only human heart I have.





                NO SENSE AT ALL.


            I know it makes no sense at all

            and I am afraid of unknowing .


            The silence of the night

            seeks my seeking,

            this source of my life.

            Can I say it ? Shall I say Thou?

            there is no name no word

            just to stay .

            I can’t explain this – how I

            can’t feel it but my bones know

            it is a soak for my dryness.


            My love struggles and strains at the seams

            effort has to be made sometimes.

            But this – it is the ease of it!

            flowing love

            for each of all these trillions and trillions of tiny cells

            in even more trillions of galaxies

            and in the beautiful spaces between.


            No reason at all:

            approach through another gate entirely.

            I know well it makes no sense

            but then what lover ever did?                        

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Red and White Crockery. Again.


My mum was a beautiful dressmaker. It was a necessity in the circumstances of life, but she enjoyed it so much that she studied pattern drafting and garment construction, and made clothes that were really an art form. Once her best friend sat behind us in Mass, and afterwards remarked that she had examined my twin brothers’ overcoats that Mum had made, and that she couldn’t see one single thing that was not perfect, and that no-one would know they were not bought from a big store. The ultimate compliment!

If that seems a long way from red and white crockery, be patient – there is a connection but it is deep below the surface.

One day, walking through David Jones, I saw beautiful crockery: it shone and beckoned to me, and I picked up one of the red and white pairs of spotted cups and saucers. These were not discreet – they were outrageous: bold red chunky dimpled china, covered in look-at-me white spots – not fine sprinkles, but plain round real spots. I bought a cup and saucer. Later that morning, feeling that was a bit mean, I bought another cup and saucer for my husband.

The following day, it seemed sensible to buy two side plates to go with them. The next week, it seemed a good idea to get more of each ‘in case somebody came’. Then breakfast bowls were necessary so we could take it all outside and eat breakfast at the outdoor table the family had bought us.

This crockery made me smile. I felt young and adventurous, and delighted in the colours and the feel of it in my hands. In spite of my rising doubts about the shallowness of my attachment to it, and a puzzlement about how different this was for me, every now and then I set out to visit David Jones again, until now we have a whole dinner set of it.

Last year, in desperation to try and shift the dreaded writers’ block that had me convinced that I was never going to write again, I joined a group of writers, hoping their imaginations might spark mine. I set myself the exercise of just writing about the everyday life things around me.

I wrote poems about my crockery: at first about its beauty and effervescence, but later about its gradual and inevitable demise through chips and knocks, cracks and drops. Of course my beautiful battered china spoke silently to a theme of my life at the time – grappling with the realization of entropy as an undeniable and fixed law of human and earth bound existence. I tried to outrun entropy by visiting DJ’s and shoring up the dinner set with replacements, until one day the lovely shop assistant said sadly, they only had it in yellow and green but NO MORE RED. I looked longingly at the sparkling yellow and white bowls, but took myself firmly in hand.

For those who have made it thus far, here is the connection I promised. One day last week, as I washed my friendly old dishes in front of the window on to my husband’s amazing garden, I was wondering why red and white polka dots had so engaged me. A memory came of a pair of little four and two year old girls on a tram in the city with their mother. Mum was tall, blonde and pretty, and was dressed in a red and white spotted dress. We were dressed to match, in the early post-war style: but our dresses were white with red spots, with gathered skirts and a tie bow at the back, and ruffles over the shoulders so that we called them our butterfly dresses. The light was shining on to the polished wooden tram seats and the brass trim, and we played at being grown ups, trying to catch hold of the overhead leather loops.

I ponder now such love, such effort at creating us a perfect life, such happiness from the hands and heart and wisdom and persistence of Mum. That love and that happiness has pervaded my life for the following sixty five years.

Red and white spots are not shallow.

They are very very deep.






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Pondering, waiting, going deeper.

A Reflection given on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday. 6th July 2014.

Each time I read the selections for the coming Sunday, I fail at first to see the connections they make to the life we are immersed in. I come to understand, to ‘get it’ so to speak, through a process of letting go of the first impression, revisiting, learning, watching, listening, observing, feeling, waiting, letting go. At the same time as this process is under way, I begin to deepen my understanding of what our human situation presents. It isn’t a conscious matching of the two, the application of the one to the other. It is more an organic process of growth that can be challenging but is always worth the effort, and the place of grace.

This time, there was a refreshing of the understanding of difference that the dimension of the wild spirit brings to life – not an anti-body attitude but a sharp realization of the urgency and beauty of life lived in fullness, (Rom 8:9, 11-13) and then the beautiful reassurance of the ‘sweet yoke’ passage from Matthew. (Matt11:25-30) I knew they would connect with NAIDOC Week, but I had to let go and ponder. I love that slow word ‘ponder’.

I looked down at the ‘Recognise’ sticker on my laptop, and there it was.

That one word: Recognise.

I understood the meaning of the choice of that word for the movement to change our Constitution, in a new and urgent way.

Recognise has a strength of meaning that grows as you hold the word and turn it over in your heart. There is something in it, of seeing again, of coming back to what seems to be known and understanding it differently. We look at a person and then our minds recognise them, but the more we know about them, the more we will recognize the truth of their being or their situation. Recognition often comes through the senses rather than the intellect. It changes our perception but also changes us.

Our eldest daughter recently related an experience she had in the country around Amata, up close to the border of the NT. She was taken to a beautiful place where there was a ring of hills around, and in the stillness and quiet, she was overwhelmed with the sense that they were drawing her and protecting her, and she was meeting a life force beyond her ken. There was in it for her, a new grasp through her experience of what that land means to the people who live in it.

On Friday night, I went with a close friend to the Aboriginal opera, Pecan Summer, with its painful themes of our shared history. I was almost overwhelmed by the sense of both our sameness as human beings, and our difference in the wellsprings of our cultural knowings. I cried at the finale on rehearing the words of the Apology spoken by Kevin Rudd, and the promises he made on our behalf to work together for the future – to yoke ourselves together to the task.

So today I did not hear these readings as a personal promise of comfort, although when in times of personal turmoil, I certainly – and gratefully – have. Today I read them as an assurance that the way to transformation is to enter more deeply into recognition, both of ourselves and of the people our culture has so badly wronged.

The promise is that in the process of learning, seeing again, listening, pondering till we understand, on our way to justice and understanding, we will be working in the energy of the Spirit, and that we will know the lightness of true humility – and that the burden is only Love.

Pauline Small.

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Is There Any More?

Is There Any More?.

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About seventeen years ago I was in a class, in which we were asked for our immediate personal response when the lecturer wrote on the board Death. I don’t recall too many of the other responses but most of them were phrased in religious language, and indicated either acceptance, fear or anticipation. The man at the front of the room said my response gave him the chance, for the first time in his life, to write the words pissed off on the seminary blackboard.

I remember so well how I came to be in this state of outrage. A week or two before, I had been walking down a street, just an ordinary street in a dry northern suburb, when the sun glinted on the leaves of the tall gum trees planted along the foothpath and lit them into intense colour. The juxtaposition of this catch of beauty on a work day in an unexpected place suddenly shifted into the realization that I loved this planet, and I did not want to ever leave it for any reason whatsoever. I was quite clear that it was this life that I was loving, and its finiteness was both shocking and rude. No, I told the horrified pastor in the class, who was a lot older than me. It was not that I didn’t want to meet God. It was just that I wanted the meeting to be HERE – and I definitely didn’t want everyone else to go on living this exquisite life without me.

Is There Any More?

Now that I am (impossibly) almost two decades older, there is quite a bit of death around.  Some have been a release from suffering, some a response to despair, some peaceful and appropriately in tune with life’s phases. Most recently, a dear woman died in the time it would take to snap your fingers, bringing memories of  ‘You know not the day nor the hour when your soul may be required of you’. What was once the terrifying threat to a primary school child, now is spoken of as ‘What a wonderful way to go’ by those left to grieve.

I have had more time to process the effrontery of being required to one day make room for someone else. I still don’t like it but I do understand that I am getting closer to the top of the line, and sometimes the wind blows cold out there in front. This season of my life has returned me to these questions but as it were, from a different angle of glance.

I know now that as a younger woman my outrage was responding to the human longing for the infinite, that desire to hold and absorb every single thing. It is the longing for something that I can’t describe when I look at the sea on a day when the water just fills itself to the brim. It is the point of intimacy in making love, where there are no borders and you can’t tell which one is you and which is the other, but which always ends up with a small sadness because it has to end. Left to drive us without being understood and shaped, the search for transcendence can turn into destructive greed or the lust for power or insatiable addictions.

The older me ponders whether this longing is totally incompatible with our lives that exist within limits of time and space, or if it is the key to what is deepest and most central to us, the deep throb of the heart of the matter, that is beyond matter. I am learning to understand freshly that my restless heart can only be satisfied by the Thou that is infinite.

I have found that I can in part accept (at least theoretically) the challenge set by Rosemary Radford-Reuther, who saw death as the surrender of the small ego-existence, returning all of the physical self and our precious uniqueness, to the Matrix of all Life for the creation of future beings and eco-systems, leaving only traces of our existence, for a time.  Brutally confronted, this abandonment is perhaps the ultimate trust and gift of one’s whole known self. It is this end-point that makes the living of each moment so precious, with such poignant intensity. It is why the deprivation of another’s human life, or the quality of it as it is lived,  has such implications.


Although science has taught me to accept that there is no bodily existence after the moment in which we cease breathing,  my whole life’s experience and wisdom also brings me to reject the possibility that there is consequentially no further delight and joy and experience beyond what we already know. It seems to me now, that this hunger is there for a purpose, giving us glimpses of the Infinite that draw us forward. It is no accident that all religions and cultures have fashioned some sort of understanding of continued existence, however varied.

I am tired now of the questions. That is the blessed release of the ‘threescore and ten’ looming ahead. I cannot know whether it will be surrender or embrace – the total embrace when drawn into the  infinite Compassionate Heart at last and into a new way of being ? Meditating in the darkness brings the sense of peace that makes the answers irrelevant. Either way has its own beauty.

Last week a friend told me how she had sat with a man who was dying and had been comatose for several hours. As his breath was slowing, he startled her by lifting his head and looking to the far side of the room, His face broke into a wide smile and he just said ‘Wow!’ He was dead in the next instant before his head had even settled back on the pillow.

Call me naive, tell me I am wish-fulfilling – but I reckon I can go with that.







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Sharing Is A Privilege.

It has been such a sad hard week. We have seen the rich and powerful once again take back control and take their revenge on those who briefly shared the sun with them even to a small degree. It is sickening to hear those catch phrases thrown and repeated , as if the ones at the bottom being crushed are so stupid they will believe them. It reminds me of one of the sayings of AA – ‘the only one who believed your lies was yourself’.

Have you ever seen a skilful bully at work? A working life in school playgrounds taught me much about them. The bully is full of arrogance and talk and clever strategies, but gets the henchman to do the nasty stuff. That is the one who needs the ego stroking of being delegated the responsibility to implement the plans, who is bright enough to carry them out, but is in the end the fall guy. I won’t name too many names, but I believe our treasurer was looking quite grey faced and anxious as he experienced the hatred he had brought on himself with such evident glee. In the playground, this one is only powerful in a group – leave him out there on his own to wear the consequences, and he is vulnerable. The Instigator won’t care. He enjoys a fight so that he can feel his own power over others. That is what dictators are like.

Have you noticed other countries where there is a conscious creation and re-creation of a desperate underclass? Well, yes, the word revolution does spring to mind. It might not happen this week, but come it will, if this is not stopped. It doesn’t only happen in third world countries. Try thinking of the USA in the sixties, where city after city erupted in violence and burning. We are not immune.

I was going to write a post about the overwhelming beauty and peace I experienced at the beach last night, as the dark golden moon was rising in amongst soft grey clouds, the warm air was silky and still, and the tide full to the brim. Images of love and plenitude, of something more than I could see, hear, touch or smell, filled me and brought me again to that almost-resting point, where deep speaks to deep, and yearning is both endless and satisfied simultaneously.

This seemed at first to be the place of the fire-bush, but that compassion and endless beauty is only half of the answer.

The other part is the rage.

Sometimes we want to put God (or Goodness if you prefer that language) into the column marked cosy. Grace is not a distraction from the reality of exploitation and cruelty. That indeed would be ‘cheap grace’. Grace invites us to stay in the place of discomfort, where outrage assaults us and we come close to despair, because we don’t know what to do with it.

Saint Augustine knew about anger, and he knew what to do with it. He said that ‘Hope has two lovely daughters: anger and courage’. The hopeful bird sings again when these two are brought together.

Anger is where God is for me now. Courage is the next step – courage wells up like that full tide, driving us to make a difference in the face of the meanness abroad in our land, and it will be powered for me by the grief of the wild God whose children are hurting.

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Hope In A Very Hard Place.

One of my biggest joys is writing. It is the means of releasing my heart on to a page, and letting insights form.  I can’t draw or paint, I love to sing but need a choir around me to keep me true to the tune. When I dance in the kitchen, my grandchildren look embarrassed for me. Writing is my own creative form.

Recently I have been finding it hard to find the space/time to write. There needs to be air around me for the creative process to spark; it can’t be forced. Things work in me, and they only emerge in their own time. Waiting is not easy, trusting that ‘it’ will happen again is even harder.

This time it seemed difficult to find the ‘common bush afire with God’. There were bits and pieces – glimpses if you will – that slipped in and out of consciousness, so in the end, I sat  and waited awhile to find where to take off my shoes.

I saw beauty in the deep red of the fallen leathery leaves mixed with soft green grass next to the pavement. There it was again in the very very clean sliding glass window in the lounge room. It was laughing in the delighted cackle of my littlest grandson, and in the brown eggs he carried in from Grandpa’s girls. It splashed and roared as the sea hit the rocks at Robe, and we older lovers sat and watched from the warmth of the car.

No image stayed with me as much, though, as this one:

Part of my life is spent working as a chaplain in a closed facility. This last week, three men were gathered together chatting, admiring one’s prolific veggie garden, talking about the Budget and what it means for the poorest, and sharing the general ‘chiacking’ common as a form of intimacy in Aussie men.

A fourth man came excitedly into the group,  happily announcing that he was being moved into an area that gave him a lot more independence – a move that reflected his health and development. It was a step that had been years coming, and one that they all longed to make. They responded with generosity and delight, and gave him all the affirmation he could have desired. As things calmed down I looked at one particular man, whose face showed that he was realizing he was about to lose the company of his old friend.

I quietly moved to his side and commented that this must be a bit hard for him. He agreed that it was, paused a moment and then straightened his shoulders and lifted his head. He said strongly  ‘Yes, I will miss him, but it is about what is good for him and his life. This is the best thing for him, that he has waited for, so I am happy for him in his life.’

This is where the common bush was afire for me this time. It was in the simple unselfish love of people who might be scorned in our streets, and had no other gift to give than their own hearts. Those hearts are endless because they are open, and they expand again with their graceful giving and loving. I was standing in a place of loving-kindness.

I took my shoes off in this place .

Blog Photo Shoes (2)

          Photo by Jack Popescu-Small

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Caught Unawares

Sometimes a new shift in our apprehension of the world can come in a manner that tips up all expectations in the most surprising, sometimes almost ridiculous way. The disruption to the pathway of our thoughts can act as a clearing jolt – like wiping the whiteboard and making room for something new to be written. As I get older, I welcome this process because whether joyous or painful, I know it will either deepen or stretch or redirect me, and always, always expand my inner space.

This time, it ‘happened unawares’ at a musical performance. I went with a dear friend to hear the Adelaide Chamber Singers at St Peter’s Cathedral, late at night, during the Festival of Arts. It was the second session of the Bach Motets.

I did not research what we were to hear, just skimmed the translation in the program notes, and chose to close my eyes and let the music wash over me. The polyphony was exquisite. The parts rose, fell away, turned and wove, refined and repeated into a richness of emotion that insisted on a human response. This was what I came for: the music dreamed so long ago in the mind of a human person, who seemed almost to be present. He was still revealing himself to us through his work.

Unlike a work of art created in a physically permanent medium, two hundred years later this music required people to read its message, to learn and befriend it and to release it again into the air of the night. What a gift for us! What a risk composers take to create and set down their music, never knowing if it will be heard, or who will listen, or how they will experience it.

There was a point of summation, when all the sounds and tapestries lifted to a whole in one instant and hung in the cathedral light. I felt as if I was breathing it in, all of it at once, and my heart hardly knew how to hold it…and oh, then I can hardly tell you the perfection of what the composer did next. He put in a rest.

Just one bar’s rest.

The music was still breathing itself into us when the rest bar began, and the sound faded gently away exactly to the point of silence . The conductor – so intimately aligned to the work – allowed the merest glimpse of what it is to stop, that emptiness of any sound. The meaning of all the singing, its layered joy, pain, life and searching, was found in the rest.

I wanted to shout ‘Yes!’ but it was all I could do to breathe, and to recognize without words that this was the sense of all my life, all our lives, what it is all about.

The music flowed on after that one bar’s rest, and the tears slid down my face, but there were no words at all.

I went to hear the music. I was found by the rest.

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On Walking Frames and Love.

It was Tuesday, my nice quiet free day of the week. I was just walking through our newly renovated shopping centre, when I heard a woman shouting loudly, angry and distressed. As I looked over I saw two security guards standing nearby, obviously the targets of her emotions. They were not treating her badly, just looking very stern.

Then as I drew nearer, it was clear that this woman was one of our neighbours, an old Greek lady without much English, whom we suspected was suffering from encroaching dementia. She was bent over from a life of hard work and avid gardening, a wide-as-high, gesticulating figure ramming her walking frame at the two men in between volleys of abuse.

The two men were following protocols, standing back watching, but they meant business. I approached them, explained I was a neighbour and asked if I could help. The older man said she had been accused of shoplifting by a nearby proprietor, and they showed me the garment in the box of her walking frame. I assured them it must have been because she had forgotten to pay, just as the shop owner arrived with a receipt for her enforced payment.

Throughout the explanation and revelation and the owner’s arrival, the tirade continued. Maria was not one to be vanquished. They were all ‘stupid boys who should not be rude to an old lady’, expletives added randomly. Unfortunately the shop owner was also not one to be mollified and was insisting that the police be called, as she had stolen something every time she had been in, in the recent weeks. This escalated her into ‘You LIAR’ at top pitch. Then she tried to give money to the security guards so that they would go away.

Eventually I managed to persuade them all to let her come home with me and I promised to talk to her husband. Suddenly the guards were ‘you nice boys, you my BEST friends’ and much patting of their arms. Not so the shop owner. For his eventual acquiescence, even after having lost the sales of at least four garments, he was ‘stupid rude CHINESE people, CHINESE should not be allowed to come to Australia’…..and the three men melted away leaving me trying to look as if I was not her daughter, relation, neighbour or co-conspirator.

As soon as the path was clear of the men, she tried to get rid of me, insisting that she was going now to meet her friends for coffee. The only way I could get her into the car was to keep reminding her that the Police would come if she didn’t. I was only just still able to see her behaviour as symptomatic, as she then decided I was the Police, and all the way home in between making huge signs of the cross and muttering ‘Opa, Opa, Opa’ she was growling at me, asking me how I knew where she lived, who was I, telling me to take her back to her friends. We turned into our street and as we passed our home, she pointed and said very pointedly ‘That is where Mister George. Georgie is NICE’.

I agreed, took her home and left her to wait for her husband.

In the afternoon when his car was home, I returned. Nothing was forgotten or forgiven. She flew out of the back door screaming at me to ‘Go away, you get out of my place, you don’t come talk to husband BITCH.’  The walking frame was ramming dangerously close to me but her husband remained inside. As I started to leave she was satisfied until I knocked on the window and called him out. He stood quietly and I tried to be as gentle as I could, but he just looked at her with his eyes full of tears and nodded to me without a word.

Feeling as if I had just crushed something precious, even though logic informed me not, I spent the week reflecting on love and compassion and the struggles to just be human and do our best, and wondering about people’s stories that others never know.

On Sunday at 8am there was a loud screaming on our front veranda. It seems ‘Australian BITCH’ had stolen Maria’s keys and she was here to get them back from me with violence by walking frame if necessary. Furthermore she was going to tell the Police, and every neighbour what a bad woman I was. ‘And you, you stay away from my husband….because you talk to him I KILL you’.

Symptomatic I knew, situation needed calming – yes, but I have to admit that my parting admonition was not only to reinforce the message she needed to understand. There was also a low, wee bit of immediate cheap satisfaction as well, as I reminded her not to steal things from the shop again. I went inside and shut the door and did not see her until the following Tuesday.

As I drove past the bus stop, a short, wide-as-high figure with a walking frame was struggling her way on to the bus that goes to the shopping centre….

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The Song Of The Feathered Bird.

The Song Of The Feathered Bird..

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