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« 'Tis the season to be tacky | Main | Gratitude »
Tuesday
Dec112018

Layered griefs and pleasures

I’ve just read Michael Ondaatje’s latest masterpiece, ‘Warlight’. It’s the opposite of a page turner – a novel composed of writing so exquisite you want to linger over every paragraph, savouring the writing. It’s a book to break a writer’s heart; with people who can write like this in the world, why do I even bother?

In one chapter the protagonist, Nathaniel, describes Sam Malakite, a market gardener he works with for a couple of summers as a teenager, in a remote part of Suffolk in the years after WW II.

‘I trusted each step I took with him. HE knew the names of all the grasses he walked over. He’d be carrying two heavy buckets of chalk and clay towards a garden, but I knew he was also listening to a certain bird. A swallow knocked dead or unconscious from hitting a window silenced him for half a day. It remained with him, that bird’s world, its fate. If I said something later that encroached on the event, I’d see a shadow in him… He always knew the layered grief of the world as well as its pleasures.’

Coming into the season where we celebrate the God who we believe created the universe, who we believe chose to live among us, as one of us, this puts me in mind of the Jesus who is recorded as saying, ‘Aren't two sparrows sold for a small coin? But not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father knowing about it already.'

I love this incarnated, human Jesus who noticed the fallen sparrow, the children his followers forbade from bothering the great man, the terrified bleeding woman in the crowd, stretching a trembling hand towards the hem of his garment, yearning for wholeness, the short, despised tax collector cowering up a tree, the woman taken in adultery, the dirt-poor widow slipping her meagre coin into the collection box.

Jesus knew the layered grief of the world, and he rejoiced in its pleasures too, eating and drinking with his friends and with others at whose table no respectable citizen would be seen. He relaxed with his friends Martha, Mary and Lazarus, walked in the fields with his followers, climbed mountains and sailed on vast inland lakes, cuddled children on his knee.

I want to follow this incarnated God who knows not only every sparrow that falls, but also the layered griefs of my life that have almost slayed me these past few years and, of course, all the griefs, far more numerous, more complicatedly layered than mine, that afflict so many of God’s adored children. I want to see more clearly this Jesus who rejoices in my pleasures, the simpler the better, who smiles when I run rejoicing into the surf, hold my beloved or curl, warm and safe and drowsy, into bed.

And I want to be like Jesus, like Sam Malakite, open to my own joys and pain and confusion and also deeply attuned to the pleasures and the layered griefs of the world around me: our groaning planet and its threatened creatures, my family and my friends and anyone else whom the God of love places in my path, to minister to each other.

This was published in the December issue of The Melbourne Anglican

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Reader Comments (2)

Dear Clare,

Dear Clare, I enjoyed the obituary of your father. "Boardng school for the girls from a very young age at the opposite end of the subcontinent, which was emotionally costly for all" brought it all back. My sister and I were at Woodstock, and then Kodai, from the age of 5. I was desperately unhappy at first, but grew used to it. I resented neither my parents nor the school, because everyone was in the same boat. I have Swiss cousins who went to Hebron, and resentefd it. They later asked their mother why there wasn't an alternative. My wife says your mother was regarded as an "SCM saint". I would like to send you a biography of my mother, if you would give me an address. We've run out of the biographies of my father - better written. I enjoy your articles in The Age. Stefan Zweig know something similar as feuillotons in the Neue Freie Presse. Regards, John Gault

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