Jun 1, 2004
Coming home

Back from London, back home again in this drought-stricken autumn, my mind incongruously filled with images of green parks and lush water gardens and the sleek grey Thames. Reading Colm Tóibín’s The Master on Henry James in Kensington and Rye. Thinking about faith and my local church – still puzzling over those difficult few days of depression in London, no obvious cause. An experience of praying into absence, as if God has turned His face away from me. Realising this was probably my turning away, but not able to get clarity or mov forward.

Posted at 04:13 pm by MaryArmour
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Feb 17, 2004
Appreciation

Amidst all the anxiety about debt and further economising, pausing to appreciate the deep simple pleasures of life: the beautiful drives through the mountains each morning at dawn and the companionship, the study on John’s gospel again tonight, The easy warm atmosphere of the workplace. Before leaving home sitting by lamplight this morning, I was reading Thomas Moore on saturnalias, the strange dark gift of depression, all bound up with painful emptiness and a sense of death, the extinction of self. This following a sad email from Damian in New Zealand, whose marriage is unhappy and who at the age of 50 is suffering persistent melancholy and meaninglessness. I wouldn’t say to him that this is a gifting experience as he struggles with painful emptiness and a bitter discontent when looking back on his life, but there is certain weight and raw honesty in his writing that I haven’t seen before. Saturn conferring gravitas. And perhaps that is what may come out of this present experience for me may be a new depth and mindfulness. a closeness to You.

The Cape bauhinia red-orange and cascading over walls and fences around the village. Like the pale blue flowering plumbago sprawling so lazily at roadsides and in the shelter of old whitewashed farm walls.

Posted at 09:55 am by MaryArmour
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Feb 12, 2004
Dancing on ice

The garden refreshed after rain, coming home and walking quickly through the warm summer shower to the shelter of the stoep (porch), the darkness gathering on the mountains all around. Dogs restless in the big kitchen. The deep memorable pleasures of summer evenings.

Thomas Moore writing about envy and jealousy in Care of the Soul. Sometimes I feel I am skating on the surface of my own life, unwilling to look at what lies buried, what is kept tucked away because it seems too painful for reflection. Lent is coming and I pray for metanoia. That change of heart and stilling of the ‘comparing mind’ from which envy springs. Others who have more satisfying and creative lives, easier lives, more successful careers. Hating the dilettante in myself, the clever would-be writer toying with ideas and never getting down to work. No diligence, no stickability. I see that in Petra at times. She is also Libra, the air sign of restless flitting thinkers. We need to anchor ourselves in place and task.

When I sit quietly for a while, the heartache comes up almost palpably. Dread and grief around all that has happened to Ula. The overwhelming sense of failure. The habit of avoidance. A sadness that I am drifting away from You, that I let go and wander off rather than dare to go deeper. Unshed tears, shining and bitter, dammed within. A lonely figure skating on a pond of patchy ice, twirling and spinning, always in danger of losing her balance. The ice will crack and the dark water will claim her eventually, but not yet, not just for this moment, not as long as she can keep the dance going, as long as she keeps running on the spot, spinning, whirling out of reach.


Posted at 08:40 am by MaryArmour
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Feb 11, 2004
Paying attention

Grey day, muggy outdoors but I am in this chilled office space with diffused light and nothing overtly annoying. If I don’t look at the flickering neon tubes overhead, that is, or allow the faint hiccupy buzz of the new printer to set my teeth on edge.

Mostly I get left alone in the early mornings so I can do breathing exercises and pay attention to the bigger issues of life once my admin is sorted out. Paying attention. I can’t recall much about this morning’s meditation because I wasn’t there while it was going on. I was reading Thomas Moore on the jealousy of the gods and wondering if my lift would be on time and wishing I could get the garden weeded (by somebody else) and making myself finish a rusk I didn’t want and congratulating myself on losing weight. No sady focus anywhere, no prayer, no quiet within. I’m glad that Ula is much happier this week, but I am shaken by the poverty and not being able to afford a home telephone, having to rely on the cell phones to receive calls. Unpaid bills I can’t do anything about until next month. We are doing without, but not nearly enough.

Closing my eyes for a few moments as I sit here. taking deep slow breaths and recommencing this given life, this it-is-what-it-is reality. Grounding myself in the present. Waiting on the divine, Your perfect will at work in my turbulent imperfect life.

Posted at 10:45 am by MaryArmour
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Feb 10, 2004
Dawn in the countryside

Put aside Thomas Moore’s Care of the Soul once I had finished my coffee and rusks, and went outside at 6am. The faintly bitter smell of woodsmoke and mists all around amidst the oaks and low on the mountains. Autumn approaching, ‘the season of mellow fruitfulness’, as I say to myself at this time every year, even though the autumn, like spring, is gone in a blink here in Africa. Not a sound, the complaining rooster pacified and the woodpigeon taking a breather. A slow-rising sun burning its way up through layers of mauve and grey cloud.

Every now and again I realise – admit to myself? – how happy I am. Despite everything. Resting in Your divine love, the amazing reality, mystery, paradox. I read Chicago theologian and sometime mystic David Tracy and mumble ecstatically to myself as I wander around the garden looking at my sedums turning pink. Humming phrases from John of the Cross and the Song of Songs like improvised doggerel, the dogs looking at me in tolerant bewilderment.

Posted at 01:40 pm by MaryArmour
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Feb 9, 2004
Trust me, you don't have a choice

It’s all about trust. Letting go. Taking another deep breath and letting go again. Falling towards God.

The drive home in the semi-darkness scares me, the chaotic Third World traffic, the pedestrians scooting through fast moving traffic, the unroadworthy vehicles with smooth tyres, the overloaded minibus taxis swerving in front of us. Cornering on the mountain passes.

Sharing a house with somebody who is badly depressed scares me.

Both she and I are shaky after the suicide attempt in December. It scares me not having very much money, hardly enough to live on. It scares me that my life has this fragile feeling when a few months ago I thought about solidity and groundedness. Now those metaphors are unusable.

Trust. There really is no other way to go on. Uncertainty, illness, poverty, death hovering. To choose life and hope. To simply accept whatever comes in trust. Auden ‘Life remains a blessing/Although you cannot bless.’

Posted at 03:40 pm by MaryArmour
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Taking another deep breath

The quiet office, city traffic muffled from below in the streets. Rooibos herbal tea. Glimpses of deep blue sky and granite mountain through half-closed blinds. The air conditioner’s white noise. Our decor editor talking to somebody in another city whose building may or may not be on fire. ‘If you’re in any doubt, better get out right away and only then feel a fool standing around on the pavement.’ Laughing at the wacky banality of this advice.

I sit on in silence, barely conscious of the hum of a new printer, the murmur of colleagues’ voices on the other side of the office. In my mind your breathless little voice telling me there is a hollow feeling in the pit of your stomach; that you have been trying to defrost the fridge and can’t go on, that today is better than Friday but worse than yesterday. My heart aching with helplessness. Bringing the vulnerable quailing heart back to the silence, the present moment that is the only reality I know. Death so close at times since your attempted suicide. Nothing left to say.

Prayer like an echoing wordless cry in the office. Lord, come to my aid, O Lord make haste to help me.

Posted at 02:02 pm by MaryArmour
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Who gets to forgive what?

Last night we sat around and read through Matthew 18. The teaching gospel, the gospels of parables. We looked at church discipline and the minister Johan spoke about how when he was young, teenage girls who fell pregnant out of wedlock (his choice of words) were made to stand in the centre of the room and rebuked by a circle of dominees and elders. No Christ figure there to scratch out cryptic messages in the dust.

We mustn’t do that sort of thing any longer, said Johan. I think he meant that it is unkind and likely to drive young women away from the church. No consciousness of coercive sexual implications, sexism, the question of the man who made the young woman pregnant, her lack of choices and resources in a small 1960s South African dorp. He still sees fornication as a sin. And uses those words. He still holds young women responsible, even if they have been raped. Women tempt men. Women need to learn to say no.

What happens when we don’t know what we are called to forgive? Who gets to forgive what?

Posted at 01:11 pm by MaryArmour
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Nature hushing the mind

To hush the channel-surfing mind in quest of distraction. That moment in the garden when I looked at the plectranthus coming up, dark and leafy, the first sign of autumn. Then noticing the flush of roses, with ‘Mermaid’ sprawling over the wall and the Crépuscule apricot and crowded on the bush. Then able to spot a few creamy flowerheads on the elder tree hung with dark fruit. Autumn ahead in this hemisphere. The garden stilling the mind, holding the senses captive. My hands smelling of the flowering calyxes of basil, fresh small-leaved tops of lemon thyme. A solitary undersized ripe fig on the tree near the decrepit lemon tree. Everything in that garden means something and demands gentle, perfect attention.

Later too in the kitchen. Cutting up vegetables at the table, a slightly blunt knife (safer for me), the scrubbed wooden board – piling up matchsticks of cucumber and carrot, shreds of red onion, topping and tailing thin green beans – to be stir-fried with garlic, soy, ginger, mustard and chilli – pausing to realise I was completely absorbed.

The ways in which the mind can anchor itself.

Posted at 12:52 pm by MaryArmour
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Feb 4, 2004
The vine ritual

In Bible study last night we looked at Chapter 15 of the Gospel of John. The Vine and the branches tended by the Gardener. As we sat in the shabby living room together I thought about the vines ripening on the Boland hillsides in a sea breeze, the fierce heat and sunlight thickening the sugar in the shiraz or pinotage grapes, the fruit nearly ready to pick as the leaves begin to shrivel in the heat. The inessentials, the transitional and the enduring aspects of winemking, the fruit to be crushed underfoot and fermented in oak barrels, stored as the wine matures, eventually bottled and drunk over family meals and at wedding feasts. A memory, a summer’s day captured in a crystal glass, a recall of a greater sacrifice. The terroir, the shale and soil, the valley and hillsides. the wine cellars and grape-picking labourers, the earth and sweating flesh and uncertainty, the sleepless night, the vine stumps torn out and burnt in the fields. Will the crop fail? Will the grapes be sour? Will the wine taste right?

That we might bear fruit.

Posted at 01:56 pm by MaryArmour
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A 21st-century contemplative writing out of solitude and silence


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