Turn then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy towards us.
Just on dusk the three-day moon, a thin orange slice, soft neon, balances on its tip and goes down behind the range to the southwest. Last light passes into the glow of an aurora, pale green at the horizon, dusky red above. Subtle pulses run through it.
Days of heat with streamers of cloud from the northwest that bring no rain; long grasses bleach and turn brittle. Near where I water the little lemon tree, jasmine puts out innumerable small green hands from the places where I pruned it earlier. Sound of bumblebees in the flowering comfrey. White butterflies – preparing to lay their eggs on the winter vegetables! – crowd the purple flowers of horehound that’s seeded itself in the pavement by the door. Nights continue mercifully cool.I spend weeks swallowed up, following events as they unfold in Canada and then in the Ukraine; in my mind, the smell of diesel fumes in freezing streets and the night-and-day sound of truck horns and bombardment. Anxious, hunched, heart banging around in my chest I think about the tensions being lived around the world, and how our language leads us to oppositions that make the easiest stories in uncertain times. Flooded with adrenaline, attention absorbed by twitter commentary and the livestreams of gonzo journalists, I see and feel how civic discourse can be derailed, how I can be co-opted to feel satisfaction or rage; how conversation turns contemptuous. How those who foster division sit safe and urge us to amplify what the Jungian psychologist James Hillman calls a terrible love of war.
Eventually I raise my head, dazed and rattled, and go outside into a day of bright sun and still air. Somewhere in the depths out over the river, the high soft yelping of eagles. I walk, to come back to my body and the sensation of this place. The forest is dry, dry, crackling underfoot, and quiet above, now that most of the small birds have finished nesting and many have flown north as autumn begins. Two yellow-throated honeyeaters chase from tree to tree, flashing the olive green of their backs and wings, and later one of them sends its throaty, churring call into the silence. On the way back up the hill, in a stand of stringybark eucalypts a dozen yellow wattlebirds fly in and out in argument and play, their harsh voices and the clatter of their wings magnified in the surrounding hush.Days shorten towards the equinox and the first gale of autumn passes over as storms begin to swing northward again. Smell of jasmine and roses. Curses are pouring out into the world, deliberate harm in response to real or perceived threat or merely because there’s profit to be made – the temperature rises. And in response, while I have freedom to walk and not be shot at, it’s my duty to pour out blessing – that is, to maintain the presence of another reality besides hatred; to assert the possibility of joy; to hold this truth for those buried in the wreckage of war.
So I attend to the squeaky voices of young parrots who barrel through the garden each year at this time; they land to bathe in the water pots and afterwards sit to preen adult feathers that are just now growing in, blue and green still tufted with grey down, patchy. I watch for the bluetongue lizard that comes to eat snails and strawberries; I hold its warm smooth body and pull the ticks from its ears. I hear the beating of wings on the dam as the swans practise flight. One of the adults has gone – flown or dead, we don’t know; one of the young ones has a crooked neck that doesn’t seem to trouble it as it swims and pulls up weed or feeds on grass and windfall apples in the orchard. Will it be able to fly?
Thinking about injury and loss and forgiveness and about what prayer might be. Sitting again (always) with the ancient icon of Mary whose original is now kept in Monte Mario in Rome, that invokes her as Advocata Nostra – our advocate with palms raised in intercession. One of a handful of images which legend holds to have been made from life by St Luke, it’s painted on linden wood in encaustic – melted beeswax and resin to which pigments have been added – the same method used on Romano-Egyptian coffin portraits in the early centuries of the Common Era. It shows a brown-eyed woman who looks directly out at the viewer with a gaze that has seen and encompassed everything. Ad vocare – she whom we can call to our aid; she who can speak truth for us when we have no voice.A cyclone makes landfall in the far northeast of the mainland, and to the east and south on this side of the continent, flooding rain falls along the Queensland coast and across the border into New South Wales, overflowing embankments, inundating towns along the rivers and creeks. And at last, rainbearing cloud reaches us too, at first as mist that creeps in from the sea during the night, just enough to moisten the dry surface, then heavier, soaking in. Flooding is forecast here on the island, too – will it wash us away? Beaded with droplets, shrubby veronicas outside my window hold still in the quenching balm as New Holland honeyeaters dive among the wet leaves till their feathers are soaked. In the half-light, somewhere downslope, ravens talk among themselves, deliberating.
I feel the damp air on my skin and my heart starts to quieten. Most of the hungry ghosts that besiege us they belong to us, after all – they are our dis-ease and I have hope that if we can turn towards them, we have medicine. Healing night comes down, and again new light appears; it slants across the myriad faces of things, touching. I smell what’s on the breeze – flowers and carrion and the scent of wet ground, here in the living dying world that goes about its work, renewing.