To begin something old and new…

I’ve decided to share a work in progress, some poetry and prose selections from a larger project I’ve been working on for a long time. “Lost Together With The Others” aims to be a compendium and revisioning of images, themes and concerns I’ve carried for most of my life. I honestly don’t know if the work will be finished before I am, and I’ve been around for awhile, but over time the process has evidenced a certain sustained consistency. At least it may be diverting. 

William Blake writes that the “fool who persists in his folly will become wise,” and Emerson states that “daily consistency is the hobgoblin of the small mind.” My life probably falls somewhere between. As Thomas Merton says we are better known by our answers then by our questions. My life has fewer answers now, even fewer questions, but at this point there is more appreciation, and that might be enough.

This proto-prologue/preface begins with a poem and continues with an overview: selections from the longer work follow. Since a webpage/blog format encourages, perhaps even demands tentative flexibility, sequence, order and style may all change over time. It may end up somewhat interesting. Check back often, share comments and questions via personal messages or the online spaces provided, and please be kind.

I’m glad we’re in this together. 

Rob Whalley

Welcome Swallows

These birds hallow place by circling, 

Downward defining mystery —

Upwards like frankincense and

Sharp winged harbingers of what cannot be encompassed.

Yet their recurring liturgy outlines

Inchoate centres rising, receding 

And returning they begin again

This sweet inarticulate witness. 

Last night at dusk before dinner with friends

We walked amongst these highflown vortices of

Occasional mystery in plain sight —

And their transparent pentecost mirrors my own life.

When some repeated wandering takes flight

And acquires consistency in its own reiteration

Around an ever-renewing sense that moves me to witness —

An unseen centre that is the journey home.

I saw the Welcome Swallows one morning  a few years ago when I was in the middle of Senior Water Aerobics at our YMCA indoor pool watching Lorraine standing on a rubber mat in front of large glass windows and leading us through some new introductory stretching exercises. Then I looked outside, just beyond her to see  groups of small metallic dark birds, sometimes two or three together, flying in intricate patterns:, circling, up, down, around; defining some collective concern or another kind of gravity by the shape of their flight. 

It reminded me of C. S. Lewis’ writing in one of his 1940s space fantasies, where the protagonist encounters an eldil, an otherworldly messenger whose presence both relativises and renews the narrator’s sense of the world. So the recurring shaping of reality by the birds just beyond my windows move me into a further focus of what might be in plain view — somehow beyond my  sight, something to do with limit and freedom and hope.

Maybe Joni Mitchell says it best:

And the seasons they go round and round

And the painted ponies go up and down

We’re captive on the carousel of time.

We can’t return, we can only look behind

From where we came

And go round and round and round

In the circle game.

My book attempts to juggle four recurring images, to dance through four occasionally consecutive seasons that seem to me to be circling in somewhat arbitrarily assigned patterns for the purpose of making sense of my life and times. 

The first is a somewhat selective but straightforward summary of my life so far: birth and youth; adolescence and early adulthood, some moments of brief but bright maturity and a prolonged but not-unpleasant senescence: sometimes all occurring on the same day. 

The second introduces three or four evolving archetypal images (building a table, taking a journey, letting a breath go and – after a pause – taking in a new breath) that I’ve both wrestled with and shared for the last few decades in my ministry as a chaplain, educator, priest and learning writer. 

The third is my recurring hunch that, for me at least, the meaning of this mystery called Jesus might best be met in two motions; His actions as recounted in the actions of the Eucharist (take, bless, break, share), and the corporate pilgrim journey shared in the fourfold procession of the church year. Michaelmas and All Saints to Advent; Christmas and Epiphany to the end of Holy Week; the season of Eastertide and Ascension; and finally Pentecost.

The final group of images came as a surprise when, at the age of fifty-four, I moved from the San Francisco Bay Area in northern California to Melbourne in southeastern Australia (There was very little choice: I was in love) where my experience of the Church year interwove with these southern seasons and opened a further understanding and a deeper participation of the faithful journey anew (Spring longing and limits, Summer life and shadow, Autumn loss and gain, Winter love and death).

This book will be the weaving of my head and heart over these four occurrences; prayerfully circling through a personal story shared with others and, in that, an incomplete and unfinished journey through history, mystery, tragedy, comedy and holiness unfolding as simply as the action of breathing, and yet somehow (mysteriously, hopefully) burning in every moment.

I am glad to share the journey with you. 

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