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Noli Timere

‘Don’t you worry about any little thing, every little thing’s gonna be alright.’

The singer in the Bob Marley tribute band sang the familiar words and the small crowd in the tiny Northcote venue danced with sheer joy. Marley’s music is deeply political. He was no stranger to struggle, pain and illness and died at the age of 36. Nonetheless, he produced this body of work that is protest music that is deeply feel-good with a convincing sense that, despite appearances to the contrary, in the words of my favourite Redgum song, ‘It’ll be all right in the long run’.

‘How can I keep from singing?’, is a song popularised by Eva Cassidy who, like Marley, died of cancer in her thirties. These lines have a key to the attitude espoused by the host of artists who were no strangers to suffering and yet were convinced that evil and hate and pain and violence would not prevail:

While though the tempest loudly roars,
I hear the truth, it liveth.
And though the darkness 'round me close,
Songs in the night it giveth.

No storm can shake my inmost calm,
While to that rock I'm clinging.
Since love is lord of heaven and earth
How can I keep from singing?

Legendary mystic, nun and theologian Mother Julian of Norwich, was born in the 14th century, just before the plague known as the Black Death swept across Europe, killing 60% of the population. Despite this, she preached a deeply loving divinity, maintained that God’s love was like that of a mother and her most oft-quoted line is ‘All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well’.

Nobel Prize winning Irish poet Seamus Heaney’s last words to his wife Marie came in the form of a text message that read, ‘Noli Timere’, Latin for ‘don’t be afraid’.  This is a phrase that occurs no less than 70 times in the Bible, a book filled to the brim with catastrophic events and human agony. As a Christian, I have clung to those words in times of personal anguish or when I have felt utterly overwhelmed by the state of our world and by the griefs of others.

Maybe this is why so many people dance for joy when Bob Marley’s music is played. Because it epitomises the courage and faith that doesn’t take the evils and grief of the world lying down, but at the same time believes that there is love at the heart of the universe and that this love will have the last word.

This was published in The Melbourne Age on 17 March 2019





FOMO for baby boomers

FOMO – Fear of Missing Out – is not just an addiction that affects millennials and Gen Z. We baby boomers might be able to commit to a social engagement way ahead of time, but if a new gadget or travel destination or stimulating discussion crosses our horizons, it’s a different matter altogether.

One of the most obvious ways baby boomers are prone to FOMO is in their rapturous consumption of podcasts, and I’m struck by this because podcasts are not a temptation for me. (Put me in the fiction section of a bookshop, however, and it’s a whole different story!)

I have no objection to podcasts in principle. I reckon they’re a great idea – the best and brightest and funniest and most entertaining or penetrating minds are easily available to anyone with internet connection and a device. You don’t have to be rich or privileged enough to go to university to have access to such pearls. It’s an example of the democratization of learning and knowledge that is one of the good things about the internet.

I’m just not interested. I have so many friends and acquaintances – all of whom I respect – who are enormously into podcasts and seem nonplussed when I say I’m not.

The thing is, I don’t want any more information in my head. I read the newspaper each day, and just taking in and assimilating most of that is more than I can handle. We live in the ‘Information Age’, and information is power, so the saying goes. Up to a point that’s true. But I suspect that at some point the flood of information with which we are bombarded every day of our lives, starts to do other, less helpful things.

  • It immobilizes and disempowers. If I hear too much about the dire things happening in Melbourne, let alone the rest of the world, I feel I can do nothing whatsoever to be useful, because the problems are too vast, too entrenched, too complex.
  • It saps creativity. To be creative, human minds need down time, need, dare I say it, boredom.
  • It lessens wonder. Walking along without being plugged into a device, however enticing that may be, stops you seeing the everyday wonders strewn in our paths, even in the city.

In what is left of my life, I would like not to have more facts in my head. Rather, I long to be able to reflect on life’s facts, feelings, griefs and wonders more slowly, more deeply.


Are these the dying days of paper delivery?

The ‘Thwack!’ of the rolled up newspaper landing on our verandah has woken my beloved and me during almost four decades of married life. That entire time, sitting in bed with our first cup of tea, poring over The Age has been the start to every day, even in the small country town where our paper boy complained vociferously about the weightiness of the Saturday Age. We were only one of two households that had it delivered.

Not that there haven’t been conflicts in this idyllic scenario. It suited my bloke and me when the sports section came separately; he could pore over that while I read the news and opinions. Then there was a separate ‘Metro’ insert which I was happy to read while he looked at the main bits. Once all the sections no longer came separately, it did cause some marital tensions about who had first dibs, but this problem was neatly solved a few years back with the arrival of iPads, to which my husband took like a duck to water, signing up to The Age app as soon as it became available.

So, for the last five years, we have happily coexisted of a morning, as I turn the pages of my beloved hard copy version and he flicks through it on his device.

These days, however, I’m wondering if this cosy habit of a lifetime is about to come to an end.

For one thing, occasionally, our paper delivery is late. If the ‘Thwack!’ that makes me smile with anticipated pleasure at 20 minutes of good reading doesn’t happen till after I have left for work, it’s too late.

Other times there’s a veritable treasure hunt involved in finding it: perched high in one of the trees or deep in one of the bushes in our front yard, under the car, on the nature strip. Our neighbours must chuckle in amusement at pyjama-clad me, prowling anxiously, on the hunt for my daily fix.

But the most compelling reason I’m considering adopting the app is that more than half our recycling each week consists of newspaper, and I need to do something about that. So, maybe it’s time I bit the bullet and went online for my Age reading. It’s the end of an era, and I feel a bit nostalgic. And sad that the accompaniment to my alarm clock – the sound of the paper landing on my front step, will become, like so much else in life, a nostalgic memory.


Vale Mary Oliver

Walking almost always cheers me. But on Christmas Eve, not even a saunter through my neighbourhood could lift my spirits. It was a gorgeous day. And I love Christmas: the worship and the music, the food and the gathering of the clans. I was at the start of more than three weeks off work and I was looking forward enormously to this spell of rest and time in the open air.

But I was down. Blue in a way that tends to happen at the end of the year, when I am simply worn out. Once again it had been a year with what felt like more than its fair share of death, illness, bad news and intimidatingly complicated tasks needing urgent attention.

I did one of my usual local perambulations through the string of parks we are lucky enough to live near, up bustling Sydney Road and along small suburban streets. When I was almost home, I was halted in my tracks by a flowering gum at the edge of an oval: the brightest, most iridescent orange I had seen for a long time.

‘Oh!’, I exclaimed out loud, involuntarily. I stopped and gazed at the cheery, outrageous display of colour and saw another wonder contained within it; an aptly named rainbow lorikeet. I was only two feet away, but the bird was not threatened. Head on one side, it regarded me quizzically and long.

‘Hello’, I breathed, which seems to be the word that springs unbidden to my lips whenever I am surprised by the sight of an animal or bird. ‘Hello’, soft and gentle and delighting.

I stood there for a while, the bird and I taking each other in, and then the creature was off, and I went on my way, rejoicing.

When I am sunk in despair, grief, deep weariness or self-pity, sometimes the antidote is as simple as soaking myself in the natural world. This can take two minutes on a Brunswick street, as happened on Christmas Eve. Or it can be a longer immersion. In the new year I spent a fortnight at the beach, when I spent hours each day wandering on the sand and swimming in the ocean. Each moment, I felt profoundly held by mother nature and the Creator God, being healed and restored.

It is a wonderful thing to take solace in the created world, which the Creator declared good. But it is not all about me. Bearing witness to wonder is work in which the Creator God takes delight, because where there is wonder, there cannot be cynicism or violence.

One of the best witnesses to wonder I know of is legendary, Pulitzer Prize winning nature poet and Christian Mary Oliver who died recently. In one of my favourite of her works, Messenger, she writes the lines:

My work is loving the world…

Let me keep my mind on what matters,

which is my work

which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.

 Vale Mary Oliver

This was published in the February issue of The Melbourne Anglican





Listen to the weather

Doesn’t seem that far back when we Melburnians used to whine when the thermometer hit 32°. ‘What a stinker!’ we’d exclaim, looking fretfully, in those long-ago days before weather apps, for a sign that the wind had turned and was coming from the south at last.

These days, 32° sounds positively balmy; we’re not shocked till it gets into the 40s. A few days ago, on a brutally hot (although still ‘only’ in the high 30s) day, our fine city was blessed, right on 5 o’clock, when your average punter was heading home from work and hadn’t thought to bring a brolly because we had almost forgotten what rain was, with a deluge. As I walked up Bourke St to my tram, I was tickled by the infectious and patent delight of everyone around me. No one was complaining about getting drenched. People were laughing and smiling and saying, ‘isn’t this amazing?’ to complete strangers. Folk were standing uncomplaining on exposed tram stops, staring up at the heavens in wonder.

It put me in mind of the start of the monsoon in India, where people of all ages dance in the street with sheer happiness and gratitude at the coming of life-giving rain after months of ferocious summer. Maybe it was growing up in the Subcontinent that has made me so fond of Melbourne weather. Living for years through four months of hideous heat followed by four months of flooding rains followed by four months of pleasant weather, year after year, made the four seasons in one day of my adopted home town an endless source of fascination. You can never get bored here, at least not weather wise.

Of course, the changing weather patterns the world around are cause for grave concern. We’re a soft lot in the city, merely inconvenienced by the heat or cold or rain; in the country the elements are a matter of life or death, as Tasmania burns on and drought ravages farms across our state. And there is the further degree of desperation experienced by our Pacific neighbours who stand to lose their very homeland, thanks to global warming and the rising of the seas.

I will continue to delight in our four seasons in one day. And try, rather than treating the weather as a nuisance, to be more responsive to what it is trying to tell us and our obtuse politicians about what humanity needs to do, urgently, to preserve life on this fragile planet.

This was published in The Melbourne Age on 3 February 2019