Coming Home

“The purpose of a pilgrimage is about setting aside a long period of time in which the only focus is to be the matters of the soul. Many believe a pilgrimage is about going away but it isn’t; it is about coming home. Those who choose to go on pilgrimage have already ventured away from themselves; and now set out in a longing to journey back to who they are.” L.M Browning, Seasons of Contemplation: A Book of Midnight Meditations

I’ve thought about this quotation for some time now…there is no doubt in me that the pilgrimage is an amazing experience for the spirit. The time taken to think, reflect and pray is well worth the effort. Finding a focus for reflection helps – whether it be a sacred place, the life of a holy person or sacred writings. Each offers a richness to nourish the spirit, to teach us important lessons.

‘Coming home’ suggests that the answers to our life questions and spiritual development are with us, waiting to be uncovered while we are ‘away’ from ourselves. Being away from the busy work and family life, the daily routines and the attendant stresses of these provides an opportunity to contemplate, to delver deeper into ourselves and discover what is the ‘essential me’. Sometimes in that process we find things we don’t like, things that challenge us and need to be resolved. The real challenge is to accept those things, embrace them and come to a peace of mind.

One of the pilgrimages I took to Ireland had Catherine McAuley as a focus. She lived in the 1800s and devoted her life to ameliorating the poverty of women and children in Dublin. She founded a congregation of Catholic nuns who, like her dedicated themselves to bringing education, health and well-being to those who were poor. In many cases, poverty is the result of structural change, by policies and actions of governments and businesses. Sometimes, this is ‘progress’ and people get left behind. Poverty is not usually the result of laziness or poor decisions.

Reflecting on her life, being in her place, seeing the legacy she left helped me to realise the power of education, of empathy, of deliberate action to help others. It also led me to reflect that some of my ancestors would have been aware of this extraordinary woman, perhaps even the recipients of her charity, or aiding her endeavours. This sense of  reaching back into the past, into the reality of people’s lives through real people is very powerful, and does bring into focus the notion of ‘coming home’.

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Each of us is a pilgrim

 

“I believe each of us is a pilgrim in our own way; we are all lost souls, trying to find our way home.” Set Adam Smith, Rip van Winkle and the Pumpkin Lantern

I’ve been very lucky that three of my overseas trips have been ‘pilgimages’, travelling with intention. They were trips to Italy, Ireland and, Israel and Jordan. They were, in some ways like trips ‘to find my way home’. Ireland is the home of my ancestors – all four sets of my great-grandparents set out from Ireland between 1860 and 1885 to find a new home in a place very different from their home, with little in their pockets but their stories, and hopes of a promising future. And by and large they achieved that, though not without challenges and heartaches along the way.

Italy is a cultural home – a centre of Western civilisation, the centre of the religion that is my religious tradition. History, law, art and belief come together in this place.

Israel and Jordan are of course, the birthplace of the great religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam and the centre of the ‘Jesus story’. This is my spiritual tradition.

There is so much to learn, and travelling teaches us much about the world, its people and ourselves. And coming home after travelling brings with it a comfort of ‘ordinary-ness’ though we still may be restless and searching.

Are we all really ‘lost souls’? I don’t know, but I do think in many of us there is an impulse to find out more about what constitutes who we are.

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Deeper Down Things

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I am reminded of a poem about observations, of the images and emotions they evoke. “Is this what I am doing now? Watching the currents, passages of life around me. I am not looking for books to explain more with … Continue reading

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A Bird Without Wings

A traveller without observation is a bird without wings (Moslih Eddin Saadi).

One of the best things about travelling is observing other people in the place. They too may be travellers, or residents – and each goes about their business. Observing gestures, conversations, affections and movement. We are each unique but still, so alike. Across the world, across cultures, people sit with their friends and family, rush across town squares on their daily errands, buy the things they need, and retreat to the sanctuary of their homes. That of course is for those of us who are lucky enough to have friends, family and homes. I’m reminded that when we are in foreign places we don’t always observe those who are in need.

Sometimes of course we do see them – they are the street kids, the beggars, the sellers of cheap goods on street corners, or following you through the markets. They are the refugees who no longer have a home, a state. They are those who have been abandoned. Those whose mental health has abandoned them. But we can compassionately observe their situation, remember that they do not intentionally try to annoy us as they try to get us to buy their wares!

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We have the luxury of travelling with a passport, an identity, a nationality. For us it is not lost, or left behind. Pope Francis at Christmas time reminded us of the suffering in the world, and gave a stern call to developed countries to be open to refugees of war and strife. He says that refugees ‘are an occasion to practice charity’. This charity should be genuine compassion and understanding of their plight, with a welcoming heart. Francis said, “Today, as the winds of war are blowing in our world and an out-dated model of development continues to produce human, societal and environmental decline, Christmas invites us to focus on the sign of the Child and to recognise him in the faces of little children, especially those for whom, like Jesus, there is ‘no place in the inn”.

 

These are powerful words and must make us think, especially as we have seen the children of Syria, Myanmar and other places being deprived of the very things that are the rights of all humans: a place to call home, freedom from war, safe food and water.

As I travel, usually in safe places, I try to observe the compassion and humanity of people, the tenderness of which we are all capable.

A bird without wings will die. Travelling without observation will be empty travel, without learning, without appreciation.

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Fruit for their songs

I value my garden more for being full of blackbirds than of cherries, and very frankly give them fruit for their songs’ (Joseph Addison)

I am growing Australian native shrubs which will bring birds into the garden, and other wildlife. The flowers on the Australian natives like the wattles, calistomens, calliendra and grevillea are quite stunning! And the birds love them! This afternoon we had a storm, and just before the storm the Sulphur Crested Cockatoos were going crazy, swooping and screeching. They are very noisy. I have parrots come to visit as well, picking away at the grevillea flowers for the nectar.

 

I also like growing succulents – they are just so easy and fill up a difficult spot really well. Their interesting shapes never disappoint, and they are so prolific they can be picked for artistic displays inside the house when flowers are difficult to come by.

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Tomatoes, Lettuce, Wombok and Basil

‘The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just the body, but the soul’ (Alfred Austin).

Looks like a great salad plate coming up in the next few weeks! The tomatoes planted just a couple of weekends ago are flowering and stretching up, the little lettuces planted last weekend have taken, the basil is doing extra well and the wombok went into my new raised garden bed this morning. A bonus is the capsicum peppers that have sprouted from a few seeds just thrown in with the lettuces seem to be enjoying new growth too! I literally took the seeds of the capsicum, dried them on paper towel for a day and threw them in the potting mix, and within a week they have poked their tiny leaves out and are now a few centimetres tall! I’ll have to separate them and put them in their own garden soon.

The last few days have been very hot, and no doubt the plants are suffering a bit, but they seem to be managing. It’s very humid as well. We may get another storm tonight which will cool things down somewhat.

My garden is very small, but it will be productive! Of course, I will not be able to eat all of the harvest, but sharing around one’s produce is as gratifying as growing it in the first place. That’s why gardening is good for the soul…the garden gives, we give and we receive so much…

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2018 Already!

‘I grow plants for many reasons: to please my eye or to please my soul, to challenge the elements or to challenge my patience, for novelty or for nostalgia, but mostly for the joy in seeing them grow’ (David Hobson). Special thanks to Kimi Harris (the Nourishing Gourmet) for the great inspirational gardening quotes!

I can’t believe that 2017 has disappeared already, behind a great deal of work! I didn’t travel too far in 2017; concentrated on my garden and my new house. The garden is coming along nicely, and native birds are beginning to appear. This has been my aim in converting what was practically a desert of weeds and gravel into a garden that gives shade, flowers, some vegetables and serenity…a place to sit with a glass of wine and enjoy the great gifts we have received. Being grateful is so important – it’s the key to a happy life I think.

2018 will see another step on my life journey – a very major step indeed. This year I will retire from my full-time work. This job has been a journey in itself – building up an office for a Catholic Church organisation that was created ten years ago. It has been an interesting time, and at times very difficult and challenging.

Retirement will allow me to follow some other paths, and tend my garden, and contribute to the planet and its people in other ways. Still a pilgrim on a journey of discovery.

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Another New Year!

This time last year I was in Jerusalem, celebrating a new year. My celebrations this year were at the Sunshine Coast – Noosa Beach with my friend Jennifer. Let’s hope that this year brings peace to those enduring war, and that we see an end to terrorism. Jerusalem this year has not been as peaceful as it was this time last year.

Noosa weather was fabulous, the early morning beach pristine! The water was sparkling and inviting. You can’t help but feel happy and alive at the beach! One of my goals this year will be to get to the beach more often. Just need to make the effort.

Back to work tomorrow!

 

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Peace on Earth

We are approaching Christmas, the time of ‘peace on earth and goodwill to all’. Yesterday, we witnessed the rupturing of peace in Paris – senseless, brutal murder of innocent people enjoying their ordinary lives in restaurants, theatres and sporting matches on a Friday evening. It was not a battlefield. They were enjoying places of joy, conviviality, humanity; and this ordinariness has been rent apart again.
Let us continue to pray for peace.

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Back to Rotterdam – the end of our cruise!

Today, August 1, our cruise ended with our return to Rotterdam. The sea was very rough again as we left Kristiaansand, and again, many people were sea sick, but again, we proved our sea legs and stayed well! Perhaps champagne helps!

On our last sea day we relaxed and planned our next few days which we will spend in Rotterdam and Bruges before flying home on 4 August. We have really enjoyed the cruising experience, and found it a very satisfying way to travel. It is very relaxing; more so than a coach tour I think.

Today we disembarked by 8.30am and went directly to our hotel in Rotterdam where we left our luggage and then headed out to explore the city. It is a lovely city. It is pretty clean, modern and the architecture is stunning. Much of the city was bombed during WW2 so had to be rebuilt, and they have done a great job! We did a tour on the ‘hop on, hop off’ bus to get our bearings, and found a great little place for a late lunch before coming back to our hotel.

Our hotel is called H2Otel – and it is a floating hotel, on one of the canals. And it is excellent. A boutique hotel that serves great food on a pontoon on the canal. The weather was perfect, so we had a lovely evening sitting on the deck and watching the world go by. Perfect relaxation!

Every day I pinch myself to make sure that this is not a dream! I feel so blessed to be able to explore this part of the world. Just about everything has lived up to expectations, and generally exceeded them.

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