Be Still and Know that I Am God

Throughout my life I have had regular, transcendent moments where I feel that I am the most fortunate person in the world. Not the most fortunate person in my town, or even my country, but in all the the world; and not just at this moment, or in this generation, but more fortunate than anyone who has ever lived. This is not an overstatement, it is exactly how I have felt countless times through years stretching back to childhood. I feel it deeply, with certainty and wonder, over and over again, hundreds of times I am sure. This is not to say there haven’t also been low points in life which are common to us all; the trials and griefs that life delivers, and those mundane seasons when nothing shines. I have pondered that word, transcendent; but my experience is never manic or disorienting. It has for so long been a puzzle, why on earth should I feel this way?

I have spent a lifetime not talking about this experience; put into words it sounds super-spiritual, inflated, pretentious. I have found just one other person who shares the experience, but I have mentioned it so rarely that I’ve no idea if it’s common or plain weird. Quite why I am writing about it now on the interweb for all to see I don’t know! More to say in a moment…..

“The knowing that comes with inner stillness”, which I wrote about last week, led me in time to begin a practice of prayerful silence. My initial approach was to see how long I could think of nothing, which is not very long at all because one’s mind is perpetually keen to fill the silence. Practice is the right word though: for a long time I had little success, but patience can produce results. I also began to read about silence and found that there is a great deal written about it in the Christian tradition. This was a surprise to me, and I wondered why we talk so much about the doctrines of Christian faith, and so little about its exercise. Within my own silence I gradually discovered a strong awareness of what I can only call heart. It is as if one can inhabit the heart instead of the mind, and the heart feels to be somewhere within the actual, physical heart – if that is possible. When I find myself in this silent heart-space I often feel the unmistakable, beckoning call of God. Unmistakable not because it is familiar, but through a fundamental recognition, a simple knowing. It is not a voice I know through repetition or from past experience, it is more like an inviolable absolute: obviously and essentially God.

The Neurologist I have seen for more than ten years is retiring, and late last year I saw him for a final visit. He’s a humorous, warm man with a sharp mind (obviously!) and we have had many engaging encounters. He reminded me of the stark appointment in 2009 when he had told me that he thought I had motor neurone disease. I agreed it was a dark day, but countered that the years since had been some of my best, which seemed difficult for him to comprehend. I tried to find words to elaborate, but they were halting. The appointment was not without apprehension as there will doubtless be a new clinical foray with fresh eyes and minds searching to understand my encroaching physical boundaries, and I wonder what they will find.

As I left the appointment I passed through the automatic doors at the front of the building and wheeled into a revelation. In an instant I understood that the feeling I have lived with since childhood, the sense of being the most fortunate person in the world, was nothing more or less than the experience of God’s love. How I could have not seen this for so many years is a mystery, but when the age old puzzle suddenly resolved it was one part relief and two parts delight!

I am quite certain it is true. The old experience has not returned. Instead of good fortune I now sense expansive love, a vast provision, and I am filled with wonder and gratitude. This is what it means to Be Still and Know that I am God.

And so I must say to you, my faithful reader, Be Still.


Be Still and Know

Here the story becomes harder to tell, the plot arcane.

This chapter begins around the time I faced a diagnosis of Motor Neurone Disease almost 14 years ago. How glorious it is that so many years have passed, and I am still here, “in the land of the living”.

I soon became acquainted with numerous MND patients around the world via an online forum; sadly all these friends have long since died. But one that I corresponded with at some length was an American professor of Literature. He happened, one day, to quote a Psalm, and these few words quickly found their place in my journal:

For God alone
My soul in silence waits.

Psalm 62:1

We had a camel in our home once. A plastic camel on wheels with a basket arrangement slung on it’s back into which we would gingerly place “straws”. Sooner or later one straw would finally be too much, the camel’s back would break and the whole catastrophe would spill.

My friend’s psalm was that straw. For a long while, as I wrote in Be Still, I had been drawn to quietness, but like a gnat on the wrong side of the fly screen I could see the goal, but never reach it. Silence called to me, but like the gnat I had never been close enough to the source of light to observe it or know what it actually was.

There were several significant straws in my own camel’s basket: It had long fascinated me that God chose to be invisible (with the odd, notable exception). God could, after all, just walk along High Street and settle all controversy, but that clearly was not the plan. Why, I wondered? It was becoming obvious to me that God chose to be largely silent as well as invisible. Why was that so? And something in my own heart repeatedly called to me through all the noise and joy of our clamorous family life. And then my friend quoted those eight words. Once again, just as it had happened years before in the desert when my Favourite Wife and I were newly engaged, my life was changing course very quickly, very suddenly, and a new revelation had arrived. A new seed had been sown. I knew. Deep down, I knew.

How can I describe what I knew? I was about fifty years old, and I knew at last who I was. I knew why quietness had been attracting my attention for years. I knew that the truth is not necessarily found in many words, not in debate and argument, not just in prepared speeches, and not only in great books – much though I enjoy them all. I knew that truth is waiting for those who attend to the quietness within. I knew that it was OK to doubt after all. I knew that I was still alive, and that was enough. I knew that I didn’t actually need to know. And I knew that everything in my life, hard though it might be, was good.

I can’t know how that last paragraph sounds to you, and I worry that it may seem supercilious or trite. I truly hope it doesn’t. Describing my early years of Being was simple: it was so good, so much fun, and so easy to write. But the words that describe the knowing that comes with inner stillness are elusive.

Be. Be Still. Be Still and Know.

There is one more chapter to write.


Be Still


A second word added to the phrase.

When last we spoke I was living and working in the Gibson desert among the Ngaanyatjarra people, and a decade of boisterous business would pass before I encountered stillness on my road. 

Numerous people in the Warburton Ranges community could describe the first white face they had ever seen, usually in their childhood or youth. First contact in the desert was not 1770, or even 1870, it was in the early 20th Century. These warm and kind folk loved teaching their language to a young fellow like me, and I will always think of this as the great privilege of my life. Ngaanyatjarra is a phonetic language, which meant that eventually I could sit with the older women and men and read for them whole chapters of the translated Bible which I only partially understood. They laughed uproariously at my mispronunciations, and spilled over with affirmation when I got it right; delighting in the faith we shared. “Yuwa, yuwa, waylkumunnu!” These were times of immense joy and humour. It was the most extraordinary experience to live way out there in Western Australia at the age of 18. The isolation of Warburton, or Mirlirrtjarra, was intense and thrilling, the absurd heat somehow invigorating, the arid landscape evocative, the people enthralling. The opportunities and responsibilities I was gradually given were remarkable, and friendships made then have proved life-long. Beyond all of this I witnessed a spirituality quite different to my own in it’s simplicity and depth of expression, and yet it was my own.

For ten years I came and went from Central Australia, returning often to build on numerous communities. I studied agriculture, completed a Carpenter’s apprenticeship, joined a vibrant church in Tamworth, laughed a great deal and played lots of music. In these youthful years I think I was “being”. To be, to be engaged in life, to have your feet on the ground and your head in the clouds. To discover that homes can be built, destinations reached, plans laid, one’s character expressed, decisions made and relationships formed; this was a rewarding and happy chapter of life. 

Stillness arrived out of nowhere at a particular moment which has the same clarity in memory as the  mini-van in which the revelation of being first grabbed my attention years earlier. One evening on my own, far from home, I wrote the simple word “quietness” in my journal. I can find it still on my bookshelf, more than thirty years on. My Favourite Fiancé and I were  more than two thousand kilometres apart. Having announced our engagement barely a fortnight earlier I had immediately set out on a long planned trip to Alice Springs and then Warburton over several weeks. It sounds a bit mad, I know, but providence allowed us the opportunity to individually and deeply work through our rather rapid decision to marry.  (We were engaged two days before our first date – a story I may one day tell). I was travelling, building, meeting good friends and once again hearing and speaking beautiful Ngaanyatjarra words. I was also love-struck, lonely perhaps, excited by the future ahead of us and beginning, just beginning, to sense the responsibility coming rapidly my way when we would become an instant family of five. It was a season of change, of transitions far bigger than I knew: exactly the sort of liminal moment into which deeper truths can fall.  

To be honest it was not stillness that I first encountered, but the notion of it. The word written in my journal was inspiration of some kind, divine I think, but it ran contrary to the flavour of my life which was bright, constructive, and often rather loud. In another six months or so we married, then moved our little family onto an isolated farm which I was employed to manage. We lived on a river in an ancient fibro house in which our bedside glasses of water would freeze over during the night. There were snakes everywhere, and I dazzled my young family with my bravery, shooting them with my rifle. We had such a time! It was exhilarating, it was hard, it was complex, it was marvellous. In all this excitement there had also come challenges and times of loss such as we all share; but stillness was something quite different. Something I recognised, but which remained unknown.

“Be still.”

A calling, a thirst, but for what, exactly?

And that’s how it remained for years: a goal, a desire, something forever catching my attention, but rarely holding it. A desert mirage.

There is more to tell.



So begins a well known quote.

I remember starkly when the concept of being first dawned in my adolescent awareness. I had finished school, prepared myself for university with a touch-typing course, the purchase of a nifty portable typewriter with black AND red ribbon (costing all my savings), and a speed reading course during the Christmas holidays. Then I had left home. It’s still quite dizzying in memory, and I see it through a sort of fog of defencelessness: it was what I longed to do, and yet I was more the passenger than the driver somehow. But on a particular Sunday night, within a couple of weeks of moving into Duval College, New England University, I abruptly woke up. I was in the back of a mini van, a people-mover, looking to the west as the very last motes of light left the distant mountains. A car full of young christians heading back from an almost clandestine charismatic church meeting in Uralla. The churches in Armidale seemed so formal to us in our flared jeans and bare feet, and we were so adventurous! Mind you, the rest of the student intake was knee deep in beer at the same moment (which I only learned later was the expected behaviour) so our adventure was comparatively tame, to say the least. Nonetheless, as I gazed west into darkness through the minivan window, like the daydreamer I was, it dawned on me suddenly that my parents did not know, at that moment, where I was! I barely knew myself. It was thrilling.

Individuation takes a lifetime I think, it’s our grand journey and starts in our earliest years. I knew it had started for my own children the moment they first said,


And I knew it was irreversible when they came home from school saying,

“Miss SoAndSo taught us that 2+2=5 Dad! So I know you’re wrong.”

The dazzling reality that was unveiled through the minivan window was me. I, myself, and not another. And then I began, gently at first, to test the depth of this reality by casting aside the controls and expectations which I felt, wrongly perhaps, confined me. Although invitations to join the main crowd knee deep in beer came frequently, I declined. My rite of passage was destined to be very marginal and, well, weird. First off I began to attend the Catholic Mass which I discovered was held daily in a chapel in a neighbouring college. It was unlike any church I had encountered before, it had solemnity and grace that I could almost touch. For a good little Congregational Protestant this was an enormous stretch; one which ended unhappily within a fortnight when the priest made the observation that I was a good little Protestant, not one of his flock, and that I was playing off-side, as it were. I was sent off the field, deeply saddened by this first experience of division.

Then I was befriended by a senior student in the college, someone of my own height which is exceedingly rare, and someone who also wore shorts, lace up shoes and long socks, which is rarer still. He remains a dear friend so many years later. He was, of all things, a Baptist! From him I learned that the divide could be crossed.

And there was a very small, very bright catholic nun in our college, a student like the rest of us but a decade or two ahead in age. She was unaware of the priest’s perspective it seemed, and welcomed all to her expansive 4th year room filled with candles and strange catholic music. It was excellent. It occurs to me only now that it was very likely her influence that led me towards the next step: a short biography of Mother Theresa by Malcolm Muggeridge.

My goodness, did this shake up my world!

Throughout my childhood I had watched nature documentaries and collected animal books, including a 24 volume wildlife encyclopaedia which my parents gave me at the excruciatingly slow rate of one volume for my birthday and another at Christmas. I had wanted nothing so much as to study natural science at university; but here I was with Muggeridge in one hand and the New Testament in the other, deferring my degree and walking out of Armidale, quite literally, with a backpack and a few belongings to find out where in the world I belonged.

It was, looking back, a perilous and naive beginning. After a brief, lonely, cold and fairly pointless spell on the road I answered an advertisement in the Sydney Morning Herald which I remember exactly because all it said was “Christians wanted. Phone: etc.”

The phone call led to an odd little community in Glebe, which was then a gray and dirty inner city suburb riddled with hardship and squatters. We stood on soap boxes sharing our wisdom in the Domain (I say “we”, but I think I only listened). We visited psychiatric wards. We got up at 3.00am to clean factories for our bread and butter. We sang and we prayed. We wrote left wing pamphlets for the Labor Party (I’m not sure they knew we existed) which it fell to me to type on my nifty portable typewriter with black AND red ribbon. Strangely enough this turned out to also be brief, lonely, cold and fairly pointless.

But, glory be, within months I was living in Central Australia among the beautiful Ngaanyatjarra people as a sort of junior missionary with the Uniting Church “Order of St Stephen”. And that was a grand adventure indeed.

I … me … this long and lanky body I inhabited … me! I had discovered being.


Balmoral Dreaming

Favourite Wife and I visited our very favourite haunt last week. Balmoral, in Sydney’s glorious harbour.

My Favourite Wife under our Favourite Tree on our Favourite Beach.

A full half-century ago we were children on Balmoral Beach. We were not to meet for many more years, but it is within the bounds of possibility that we passed one another. Passed, because we could not have done otherwise, belonging as we did at opposite ends of the beach. Balmoral Beach is the southern end, where our tribe of boys belonged; Edwards beach is the northern end, where she and her sisters were frequently taken for family picnics. For us it was only a walk by footpaths or bush tracks, and the “Clifton Street Gang” of a dozen or so neighbours owned the beach. The southern end of the beach at any rate; the northern end we visited infrequently because we felt so strange there, so out of place. And, besides, there were girls up there.

The Clifton Street Gang, Christmas 1972
“The Clifton Street Gang” photographed by my uncle in 1972.

But memory is an famously unreliable witness. So much of both our pasts is anchored in the shallow water and glorious sands of Balmoral, but we return there as strangers: knowing, but unknown. When we visit our beach we both experience such a flood of memories that it intimidates our sense of the present. In nostalgia one’s thoughts are prone to race in wide arcs of comparison. Then and now. Us and them. Fancies of what might have been. Great embellishments of what actually was.

The signal danger of nostalgia, one to which I fall prone, lies in forgetting that the past was once the present. And that distant ‘present’ was as laden with hopes, joys and fears, with inspirations and intimidations as today’s present is.

I have a peculiar folly: in the blink of an eye I can create alternate histories for myself that spring from a different choice made at some crucial moment. Suddenly, immersed in wistful memory, I see an entirely different path I might have taken; a different profession, and different location, a different whatever-I-want. The tragedy, of course, is that this wild imagining denies the goodness of the present moment I actually live in. Every good gift life has given me, and there are too many to count, evaporates as my imaginary castle of sand on Balmoral Beach grows. But I have learned to avoid this quick sand, by and large.

One of my favourite quotes is this:

“God reveals himself to us as our life”

I got that quite wrong!

“God comes to us disguised as our life”     – Paula D’Arcy.

I don’t know who it comes from, but I believe it’s truth. It’s meaning is slow to emerge, but give it some thought. The past may have been a gift of enormous value, but the present moment alone is the gift. It is now that matters, now that we decide, now that we act, now that we love or hate, now that we hurt of heal, now that we fear or love.







A Christmas Tale

Sometimes words and events loop around through decades, swaddling together, as if meant to be.

A couple of years ago, during the dark, dark days of lockdown (how quickly we forget), we three were sitting around our table after dinner and we did that thing everyone does now and then: we looked up the meaning of our names. One name remains etched into our daily life from that night: Young Adult’s middle name, Kay.

When the Little One first arrived twenty one years ago she brought her own christened names with her, and only her surname was changed in the course of adoption. Her given middle name, Kay, was the name of my much loved great aunt Kay. It was a family name that we might easily have chosen for her, and it rang true in our ears with a sense of affirmation.

Kay, we discovered in the dictionary, or the google as it is these days, is not one of those names that has a dozen varied meanings from which you can choose according to taste; it has just one: Rejoice. This discovery was startling and, well, joyous, and the Young Adult took to it like the proverbial duck. She has held it tightly to herself since. At that time she had no knowledge of the use I make of the word Rejoice as the title for these pages; and certainly no knowledge of my attachment to the word which goes back well before her own life began. 


On a recent trip back to Tamworth this photo from the mid ‘80s surfaced. I was a youth pastor long ago, and this ute served me in my day job as a carpenter, as well as being a mobile testament to the zealotry of youth. I was awfully zealous. I made the lettering from red contact plastic, with a matching “He Lives” on the passenger door and an accompanying verse of scripture on the tailgate. Cutting the whole thing out with a blade knife at the kitchen table must have taken quite a while. There were members of our youth group who would bury their heads under the glove box so that they wouldn’t be publicly identified in my radically embarrassing vehicle.

My attachment to the good word goes back further still. At the age of seven I was given a Good News New Testament on the occasion of my birthday by Mosman Congregational Church Sunday School. A while later, in a challenging time of life, I discovered that the words of this book had a peaceful effect that could be felt deep within. In the Letter to the Philippians I found a particularly attractive word, repeated numerous times:

Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I will say, Rejoice!”

Although I was still young, this good word, Rejoice, entered my soul as sunlight warms and feeds a tree. It held excitement and promise which resonated, and perhaps for the first time I felt the pull of calling. It was a word with a forward motion, it was grateful, it was buoyant, it was strong. I say all this in my 60s, but I do think I felt these things in my childhood.

In the good old days, school pencil cases had little plastic pockets on the outside and a card of letters from which you were meant to cut your name. I cut out a different word, obviously, which is still in my office all these years later:


Now back to the heart of this story. Young Adult seized on this meaning of her name with delight. It was as if she had been waiting for it (or it for her?) for the whole of her life. It’s implication was immediate and self evident to her: I am Rejoice, and I give people Joy. She does exactly that; she is (at her best) a living, moving fountain of joy. Her disregard for convention and social boundaries (lets be honest, it’s more than disregard, it is complete ignorance of such artifices) allows her to inject her joyful presence deep within anyone at all. She has this keen sense for the person who needs some joy; its as if she can sniff the faintest scent of gloom and hunts it down. She is funny; wonderfully, outrageously, innocently funny; and her simple wisdom delivered with warmth and joy and too many hugs is miraculously restorative. I’ve watched her at work countless times, and it is thrilling. 

Ever since that evening around our table she has been telling people, friends, strangers, support workers, anyone at all,

“My name is Rejoice!” Sometimes pronounced in the rush just as “Joyce”, which works too.

I offer this to you as a Christmas story. A true tale where divine destiny intersects our mortal lives with hope. A child comes with heaven’s gift. The Light of another realm blazes forth in our own. Joy flourishes in an unlikely and humble corner, sweeping us along in its clean, abundant truth.



This week our small Baroque Consort, we call ourselves the “Treblemakers”, played another concert. Not in the town theatre this time; this was our own programme in the Conservatorium for thirty odd friends and family – whoever we can find! The degree of anticipation we feel as our biannual performance approaches is huge, and out of all proportion to either our audience or our talent. It’s every bit as thrilling, and daunting, as the Shakespeare plays we presented in my school years; or the Pirates of Penzance we sawed away at on several successive nights in year 10. (Most definitely sawing, not soaring). Hours, hours and more hours of practice, lessons, rehearsals.

But when we played this week I think we may even have soared, just a little. We’ve been together for several years, and we have a truly gifted director, and sometime during this year we began to play in tune, and in time. Now, that might not sound like much. Indeed you might be wondering why it would take years of practice to play in tune and in time. But the harsh truth is that those two measures are perishingly difficult to achieve, especially the first, and many amateur ensembles do not find it. But, to a degree, we did!


The anticipation, the practice, the nerves, (the dread), finally became the thrill and the joy of accomplishment. It was such a joy, such delight. I played two solo movements from Bach’s third cello suite, and the vast majority of the notes were good ones. To know that we played our ancient and modern repertoire skilfully and beautifully gives me goosebumps! 

But in my signature fashion I frequently worry about this. How can it be at all OK for us to spend our time and money (a European made wooden recorder does not come cheap) in such a frivolous way while Russia continues it’s attempt to murder the Ukrainian nation? Or while famine scythes it’s way through Ethiopia, South Sudan and Afghanistan?

“As many as 828 million people go to bed hungry every night. The number of those facing acute food insecurity has soared – from 135 million to 345 million – since 2019. A total of 49 million people in 49 countries are teetering on the edge of famine”.    (World Food Programme).

It is vital that we do more than worry: we must give, work, pray, write. It is vital also that we do more than that: we must also create and celebrate and, yes, Rejoice. We must play. Play an instrument, or play in any one of play’s hundred-thousand guises. Art, music, theatre, sport (that’s a stretch, I know, but I have met people who claim to enjoy playing sport), the beach, the bush, the mountain, the river.

“Play bespeaks eternity.

Play is a gesture of hope.

It takes us momentarily out of the realm of suffering and lets us glimpse deathless joy.

It is a gesture of hope in the face of ugliness and destruction”.  

(Clark Pinnock, Flame of Love).

Isn’t that a bright and glorious vision of who we might be, of who we are?



I very much like to make things. At quite a young age I set about making a big, curving dagger out of brass in my father’s workshop under the house. It was to be a stage prop for my role as King Theseus in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. With a fair amount of fatherly help I fashioned a fearsome, glittering weapon which I doubt I would be allowed to take to school nowadays.

I like to make things in a very particular way: without instructions. When I was an apprentice carpenter the painters would sometimes use a brand of paint that had embossed in a circle around the lid,

If all else fails, read the instructions.

I can still feel the immediate and visceral attraction I had to this paint-tin philosophy. It was funny, but it was true! What a grand way to live.

And on the cover of my maths exercise book in Year 12 I had a Hagar The Horrible cartoon from the Sydney Morning Herald in which the great man was instructing his offspring thus,

“Ignorance is the mother of adventure”.

This, I thought, is a rule for life!

Nothing rivals the deep satisfaction that can be gained from an industrious afternoon in the workshop. A sense of peace invades my heart, and all seems well in the world. For that while, at any rate.

But as I was mulling over this personal oddity while waiting for a bus this week, I quite suddenly saw a darker, heretofore hidden aspect to my aversion to instruction. It’s something akin to lawlessness, if on a modest scale.

I believe myself to be a law-abiding citizen; in fact I take a smidgen of personal pride in being honest, and on the right side of the law. But, and this is a BUT, I don’t actually know very much about the law. I can’t remember ever looking up a road rule, for example, or any other law: I just assume I know where the lines lie. I might go so far as to say that at some level I believe the law supports my views on right and wrong, rather than it operating in the other more conventional direction.

Driving is a very good example: the driving test I took to gain my Black Licence (I have never, ever used an L or P plate!) consisted of one question:

“Can you drive?” 


”Fair enough”.

I was 18, living in the Gibson Desert, speaking with the police constable who came through about once a fortnight. That’s all there was to it.

Back at home in Sydney, some time later, I took a driving lesson just to brush up on everything I didn’t know about traffic, which was rather a lot. I remember the driving instructor saying,

“Brakes please”.

“Brakes please”.

“Brakes please Mr Allen!”

At the end of my single lesson he asked if I would be booking another, and I replied no, I was satisfied with one lesson thank you.

I don’t think you are ready to pass a driving test Mr Allen”.  

You can imagine the exciting news I had for him!  I don’t remember any more what his reply was.  Perhaps he was speechless.

My brief bus stop reverie even included the realm of faith: I have occasionally made the observation in our church, from the lectern, that I have earned only one qualification: that of Carpenter; but there is a well known precedent, and this is quite enough.

I have rarely been employed in the traditional sense of having a boss; and when I did have one I’m not sure I was reliably compliant. I do like to sail my own boat.

So, from a simple reflection on the joy of creativity, I had travelled in less than the time it took for the bus to arrive (on time) to a view of myself as a person who mocks instruction, who shuns authority, who has the air of entitlement, who assumes superiority, who is recalcitrant. (No, no! You should not rush to protect me from myself).

The position of our eyes in our head is truly instructive. Mine are placed in just such a way that except for a vague sense of the tip of my nose I can never see my own face. The best I can do is to look in a mirror, take a photo, or (as a last resort) ask someone else what I look like. This is an organic parable, a lesson to be earnestly noted and contemplated at the earliest opportunity.

“Young man”, I want to yell through time to my younger self, “Everyone knows you better than you know yourself.
hink about that!”

But this shift in perspective is not a young man’s game, is it? It takes a lifetime for us to know ourselves, and as the veil is gradually drawn back the thing we behold will not always be to our liking. Occasionally this will explain why it was not always to another’s liking also; but mostly it will be yet another lesson in Grace: All this, and yet I am Loved.


The Last Day of the Last Good Year

This day, the 20th of November, is my very last day on this fair earth at the age of sixty. “Such a shame!” As my father would have said.

I felt that the age of 60 had a ring of accomplishment, a birthday in which one might take a little pride, but 61 is just pedestrian. Perambulation of the worst kind: downhill.

Despite the approaching gloom I have spent the The Last Day of the Last Good Year wonderfully well. We began with the customary cup of tea which I make for my Favourite Wife and I each morning. Then off to church. In an increasingly secular age church attendance sounds quaint to some and absurd to many more; but it remains the cornerstone of our life. Faith is everything. To my mind the truly absurd idea is life without faith. CS Lewis considered the reality of God and wrote,

The position of the question, then is like this. We want to know whether the universe simply happens to be what it is for no reason or whether there is a power behind it that makes it what it is. Since that power, it if exists, would be not one of the observed facts but a reality with makes them, no mere observation of the facts can find it. There is only one case in which we can know whether there is anything more, namely or own case. And in that one case we find there is.  (Mere Christianity)

Rather wordy, I know, but this resonates so deeply. I find it impossible to imagine life in this world without the real presence of God. How can anyone live with all of this strife and not believe? The opposite position is of course widely held: How can anyone live with all of this strife and still believe? But I believe; and I hear in every human expression from literature to music to the superheroes of the big screen one hope: a Saviour. Well, enough proselytising – I don’t much like being proselytised and ought not impose that on you.

The second highlight of the The Last Day of the Last Good Year was a marvellous concert in our local theatre in which I performed! I rehearse every week with a Baroque Recorder Consort, and this afternoon we took to the stage alongside other students and teachers from the Murray Conservatorium. Music making is sheer joy. The thrill of playing the right note, at the right time, has not grown dim. It is a pleasure that reminds me of childhood somehow: a true and beautiful chord played together is like a fresh discovery in innocence that never seems to grow old.

This Last Day of the Last Good Year has one more resonance. It was on this day one year ago that I arrived at my ageing father’s bedside, having caught the first train north that I could after the endless months of pandemic lockdown. My father had gone through truly awful times with several hospital admissions during which none of us were allowed to visit; culminating in fall in his room, a broken hip, a hip replacement, two more falls in hospital, a second broken hip and a second hip replacement one week after the first. A dreadful, horrid trial during which he was quite alone. But on this very day one year ago a miracle occurred. The aged care home rang on the same morning that I had arrived in the early hours at Sydney’s Central Station telling us that our father was in pain and needed either hospital or palliative care. A stark decision, but Dad had made his thoughts on this abundantly clear to us. When the call came through from my brother, and we had made our decision, I happened to be in a car with a school friend just a suburb away from my father. After so many months of forced separation I was at his bedside well before the doctor arrived, and there I stayed for the last eight days of his life. A harrowing and beautiful week. Since the day of his passing I never think of my father without a dawning sense of his presence somewhere near me. I was utterly unprepared for this experience, and had been inwardly (alas, probably outwardly) dismissive when I had heard similar accounts. To this day at every moment that I expect to feel great grief at my father’s death I feel instead something almost opposite: a sense of his whole and ageless person nearby. He is, after all, among the “cloud of witnesses” which surround us; or in the words of my father’s great friend, “They are nearer than we think”.

My father lived to the age of 88. For more than a decade I have been unable to imagine myself reaching remotely that age; in fact I rarely see more than a couple of years into the future. This veiled horizon began with a Motor Neurone Disease diagnosis more than 13 years ago and I’ve still not shaken it off: if I look three years ahead, I’m just not there. Perhaps that sounds bleak, or worse perhaps is sounds like a thought one shouldn’t entertain. Personally, though, I am glad to have had the illusion of immortality dispelled. Having brushed past my own death, for now at least, there is something delicious in every new day. Look at me, I am alive again!   

The Last Day of the Last Good Year?     Hardly!


Darby and Joan

My Favourite Wife and I will celebrate 34 years together later this week. We are presently on a Grand-Tour of Grand-Children, some of whom we have not seen for almost three years. Last night we met our youngest granddaughter for only the second time, a gorgeous blonde toddler who – achingly – does not recognise me at all! Happily we have four days with them and affection will surely grow.

At fourteen days this trip is the longest we have ever taken together. When our Little One had been settled in her own home for just ten days (a month ago already!) it was the longest time my Dearest had ever spent together on our own. We were married with three children, all of whom accompanied us down the aisle, and so from the very beginning our home was wonderfully full.  But here we are, suddenly, just Darby and Joan.

Defining moments in the course of life are infrequent, by and large, and habitually traumatic no matter if they are moments of joy or of sorrow. What I didn’t see as a young man, and see a little more clearly now, is how beautiful it is to be reborn. The cycle of beginning and end is universal: almost everything we see in our wide, wide world bearing witness to the arc of life and death. But while the long game of our life is being played out other seasons come and go. Many and varied things begin, and then they end, sooner or later. Some big, some small; some joyous, some dark. This particular rebirth is a big one for us, perhaps the biggest yet, and it is fearful and bright.

Martin Luther wrote,

“Grace is the experience of being delivered from experience.”

I’m not entirely sure what that means, although I enjoy wondering. The word ‘delivered’ is intriguing: we use it to describe birth, not as the delivery a postman might make but a delivery through and from the trial of labour. I think that ‘grace’ is the gift of a new beginning. Life, or God, occasionally resets. Suddenly everything is different and the experience of the past, good, bad, or indifferent, concludes. Everything is new and we inhale the grace of re-creation.

Whatever has gone before has gone; it cannot be altered or retrieved. What comes now is new, and, if we can just see it, full of grace. If only we can stop long enough to see and welcome the new day, then grace abounds.