Posted by: Jan | 22 March, 2013

Honouring one another – creatively

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I wrote in an earlier blog about Colebrook Reconciliation Park. This is the message that is painted on the wall facing the street:
We cannot forget the past but we can come together and unite as one in friendship and forgiveness and honouring one another’s culture
I’ve barely begun to learn about Aboriginal culture – that is, the kind of learning that can happen not from books but in the same place and face-to-face. I hope more will happen while I’m here.
I am realising, though, that while I’m meeting mostly people of European origin, finding much in common and receiving warm and imaginative hospitality, our nations have still – because of history, geography, climate – developed some different ways of doing things. No huge shocks, but some gentle surprises. And of course, confirmation of what I always knew about the Australian way of life, from my wide and shallow reading …. look! a barbecue, beach lifeguards, and someone cuddling a koala (the last experience was generously arranged by Margaret and Neil Holm in Brisbane – on either side. That’s me and a remarkably calm koala in the middle).

Brisbane

It was also in Brisbane that the Wellspring group organised a Blessings Workshop: 25 folk gathered in a beautiful city centre park and for two hours we thought about different kinds of blessings, heard some examples, and wrote some of our own. The place and its plants and creatures and human interactions was our inspiration. What was actually written was very different, reflecting a range of ages, ethnicity, theology and life experience. But we listened with respect to what others had composed. I’ll include here a picture of a moment of great concentration.

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Some people have very particular gifts, and I want to include also a picture of a quilt I was given in Adelaide. This combines a familiar symbol – the Celtic cross – with the wind-pump which says so much about Australian landscape and culture – and is the logo of the Wellspring Community. There are words sewn into it, too, and I’ll share these later.

And now I’m in Newcastle and about to give another talk about Israel/Palestine and the work of EAPPI. It will be in the context of an art exhibition Life in Gaza Today. I’ve never been to Gaza, like most people in Australia, but there are painful and moving insights to be gained from this travelling exhibition, which at the moment is being displayed in Adamstown Uniting Church, organised by the minister, Rod Pattenden. This morning I walked round and looked at these pictures by adults and children, which say so much without words – which to me are so important. You can see the pictures on the website gazaexhibition@miat.org.au
Creativity from a very different place. Something to make us think, to be honoured., and to unite us in friendship.

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Posted by: Jan | 20 March, 2013

Drops of water

One of six water tanks

One of six water tanks

It was more than drops when the rains began in Perth last week – it was thunder and lightning and sheets of rain and drains blocked with the dry dead leaves of gum trees, so that lakes spread across the roads. It was fragrance of eucalyptus in the freshening air.
Rain is vital here. Staying in Adelaide with David and Lynona, I walked with them round a garden planned with indigenous plants which resist drought, and vegetable plots kept going with hoarded rainwater and grey-water. They had six water tanks in different corners of the yard, five for the garden and one in case of bush-fires – though the last to sweep through the Hills area was forty years ago.
Adelaide used to have a different water problem – at one time there were only two places in the world where ships would never take on water – Adelaide and Aden – because it tasted so terrible. Now it’s standard issue chlorinated tap-water, but precious. I looked at David’s chart of the readings from his rain-gauge:467 cm last year, of which 42 fell in January and March together. In the same two months this year it was 34.5 cm. Water watched, drop by drop.
They have been volunteers in Iona, and we had plenty to talk about. Three more folk who had worked in the Iona Community’s Centres came to an event organised in a local park. It was a bring-and-share barbecue – very Australian – and in the rain – very British. But the fifteen of us (and the salads, and kebabs cooking) were under a gazebo, and so this Wellspring/Iona gathering went on cheerfully as downpours and sunshine alternated and the boys biking on the skateboard ramp nearby carried on regardless.
Afterwards we walked a few hundred yards to the Colebrook Reconciliation Park, It is alongside a busy road, the site of a ‘training home’ in which between 1943 and 72 approximately 132 Aboriginal children lived. Under a government programme they had been removed from their families to be ‘assimilated’ into Australian society. This happened all over the continent. That generation are known as ‘stolen children’. Among the tawny dry grass and the young, planted trees, were clusters of grey boulders, some carrying inscriptions, quotations, names and fragments of their story. Near the gate was a moving statue of a grieving mother, with empty arms – in which someone had placed a bunch of flowers, now withered. Nearby water cascaded from a coolamon, a traditional vessel, over the upturned carved faces of men, women, children. It is called ‘the fountain of tears’.
Grieving motherFountain of tears

Posted by: Jan | 18 March, 2013

Head in the air

At Perth airport, on the way to Adelaide, I met David, an old friend who is living and teaching there just now. We had an hour in which to cover, in rapid and wide-ranging conversation, all that had happened to us and our families in 38 years since we last lived in the same country. A conversation rich with other things – what makes us angry, and hopeful, what makes us laugh. He told me this story:
And Moses prayed to the Lord, on the shores of the Red Sea. And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Do you want the good news or the bad news? The good news is that if you hold high your staff, I will divide the sea and roll it back so that all your people can walk through on dry land.’
‘And the bad news?’
‘You’re going to have to write an environmental impact report.’
I thought I’d declined Customer Care with a wheelchair at the airport, but kind people from Qantas tracked me down and escorted me to the plane – which was standing out on the tarmac, with a flight of steps to the cabin door. However, the young woman led me to a device – a kind of cherry-picker, which would have held a wheelchair, and she and I and my carry-on luggage ascended in the company of an old man like God in a mystery play, and were delivered to the very door of the plane.
Which was not particularly heavenly, being cramped, packed with people, with limited views of the earth below – but it was all very well-behaved. Again, I was charmed by the Qantas safety video, which has a large cast of smiling, confident airline employees, from baggage men to pilots, women in the control tower to cleaners, cabin staff too – all explaining procedures in a firm and friendly way. It was like having your hand held to help you cross the road.
I didn’t make use of the in-flight entertainment, except for the little map that tells you about altitude and speed and distance to the destination. There’s a mixture of useful and random information on the map. This listed several little-known features of the sea-bed round Australia: South Australian Basin, Cuvier Plateau, Broken Ridge, Naturaliste Basin, East Indian Ridge, Ninety East Ridge. Now why would I need to know where these are? But thank you, it was interesting all the same.
I was reading Pipeline, publication of Wellspring on the plane. Here’s another interesting fact:
A return flight to Australia from London represents 87% of a typical single person’s household annual green house gas emissions in a year.
Hmmm – I’m going to be challenged to repair the damage I’ve done in just a year. I think it will be my Year of Living Carbon-mindfully. Not Absent-mindedly.

Posted by: Jan | 14 March, 2013

Fruitful

Another day. A fruitful day.
Yesterday I sat and wrote beside the olive tree in the yard. It’s laden!
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And everything that happened was very local – a morning gathering at the nearby Uniting Church – not as random as a ‘coffee morning’ – I have mixed feelings about those, it’s not so much the indifferent coffee as the threat of cosiness. Well, this was comfortable but not too cosy. It clearly provided a safe place for people who were lonely, anxious, in recovery from operations or bereavement. It was a place for laughter, listening, carefully chosen words and people willing to share their creativity. There were church-goers and those from the surrounding community for whom this was ‘church’ in a very basic way.
We sat in a circle drinking tea under a cross, made up of quilt squares about fifteen years ago, very different images created by people of all ages, representing their lives, their enthusiasms, where they found God. The theme was Gifts of the Spirit Dorothy and Cherry, who contributed to it, gave time to describe the good experience of putting it together.
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This is what Wembley Downs Uniting Church says about itself:
Our congregation seeks to be a community of Christian people who –
• Follow the way of Jesus, allowing his gospel to inform how they lead their lives in a changing world
• Welcome all, regardless of race, age or gender
• Join together regularly in worship and activities which enable them to live out God’s love in the world
• Recognise that every person is unique and encourage all to share their wisdom and gifts
• Affirm, support, nurture and accompany each other on their spiritual journeys
• Are committed to living out their faith by serving wherever called.
To me this seems to be borne out in the body language of the building (which is not ecclesiastical but homely, open) and the people in it. An impression strengthened by an evening meeting there, where Michael Morwood, Theologian in Residence at Kirkridge in Pennsylvania, on a return visit to Australia where he was once a Catholic priest, gave a lecture: Evolutionary Theology: Challenges to Christian Doctrine. This evening was also the launch of a progressive Christian network in Western Australia. There were about 100 people there, packed together on a humid evening when no-one would have fallen asleep: the talk was provocative, energising ‘I believe in a mystery, the ultimate ground of all there is but I no longer believe in a deity in the heavens…not a God out there speaking to us, but the divine in us being expressed…’
I could quote more. I was encouraged, nourished. A day well spent.

Posted by: Jan | 13 March, 2013

The sun sets on another day (which one?)

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This is Brighton Beach – not the one cut off from the rest of the UK by snow, as I write (or so Anna tells me). This is on the other side of the world, on the edge of Perth, Australia. The sun is setting, and if I think hard and do some mental arithmetic, I can tell you the day. Being in the belly of a plane with the window-blinds down, pretending that the sun is not shining, a day is not happening out there, and knowing that time is somehow spooling backwards, while we go on living forwards – this is confusing.
So is the kind of head-cold you can pick up on a plane – or possibly import without licence from the chilly, unhealthy UK!
But such small miseries are balanced by the warmth of hospitality. Cherry Miners, ever since the pick-up at the airport – well after 1 am on Tuesday – has made me feel at home, made me laugh, taken me to meet friends, made green curry (delicious and radical treatment for a cold), and with John, her husband, talked about their extended family, showing pictures of walks and swimming holes in the Outback. Right now I’m sitting in the shade in their garden, with its laden olive tree.
Olives and lavender flourishing, an avocado tree growing next to rhubarb. Roses and coralita, and – along the streets of Wembley Hills, the suburb where they live – bougainvillia and hibiscus, frangipani and flame trees and jacaranda: trees and plants that I remember from Nigeria, mixed with the Mediterranean and plants that do well in a cold climate. Alongside some local heroes: gum trees and spinifex – things I’m just starting to see in their native habitat. All this a delight, but also inevitably the start of conversations about how the weather and the landscape are changing.
On the drive from the airport in the early hours, I saw trees on the central reservation being watered and asked where the water comes from. So I heard about dams that had been built 20 years ago, but had never filled as reservoirs, about boreholes and desalination plants – so that the Indian Ocean in my picture, a few blocks from here and source of the cool wind in this garden where I’m sitting, may also be the life-giving source of water for those municipal trees.
And into each conversation comes global warming, linked to drought in one place, floods in another, grass-fires, cyclones, extreme weather events which are perceived to be more frequent, even in this green Eden. ‘But the politicians – they still don’t take it seriously.’

Posted by: Jan | 5 March, 2013

A long silence

I signed off from this blog in March 2010, as I handed back the EAPPI laptop, on my return from three months in the West Bank Palestinian Territories. I thought it might be possible to continue blogging in the different ‘far country’ – the Isle of Mull where I have made my home (and which is pictured at the head of this blog).

But that didn’t work – I was living in a different way from the intensity of life in a different culture and a land under Occupation. Mull can be a differnt culture too….and there has been plenty to learn and life has not been boring here – but what needed to be written was different and shared in other ways.

Now I’m about to travel again. An even greater distance – to Australia, as guest of the Wellspring Community, a sister movement to the Iona Community. How much I have to learn, as I travel to this place I never thought I’d see, and meet folk who want to share their lives there – and hear what I have to say about the West of Scotland and the West Bank, the Iona Community and our Justice and Peace Commitment.

I feel anxious and unprepared. But if I make a commitment to blogging again, perhaps you will accompany me on this journey? Before I leave, here’s a poem:

While I’m away

‘While you’re away – don’t worry –

we’ll water your plants’

O my good friends

how can I give you the key to my home ?

It would also be a key to my inner life –

the dusty corners,

the books stacked on the stairs,

piles of papers

and loose ends, trip hazards.

Please leave the plants to dry up – die if need be –

while I am away.

But something else may happen –

that frantic flowering

which happens when the life of a plant is threatened.

My house may become beautiful with bloom!

And almost certainly

while I’m away in a far country

the same will happen  for me –

confronted by the unfamiliar, out of my comfort zone,

I’ll flower into words.

Perhaps I should take pity on the plants –

and trust friendship, believing

that the danger of dryness beyond the world’s edge –

and very close to home –

never has the last word.

There will be wellsprings,

there will be flowering, there will be grace –

while I’m away.

Posted by: Jan | 26 March, 2010

A pocket full of crumbs

Right, that’s it then.

I’m going to close down this computer and hand it over, leaving for Jerusalem and home with my life here on a memory stick (well in my mind and heart, too).

This blog may well continue in a week’s time from that other ‘far country’ which is shown at the head of this page, and which will again become home for me.

The last thing I’ll send from here is a poem. I don’t think it needs any pictures:

A pocket full of crumbs

In the middle of a conversation,
I put my hand in my pocket
and find it full of crumbs.

They belong together – words and bread –
but I don’t always find it easy
to cope with both at once:

to give full, serious attention
to food offered in love, while finding
and savouring the right words.

So, from time to time,
I slip a morsel into my pocket
instead of into my mouth.

Now what’s here? A crust
torn from the flatbread, that our neighbour
broke by the brazier on a cold morning

and a piece of the bread
shared by Christians in Nablus
at close of Sunday worship,

and a cookie from the Women in Black
after their Friday demonstration:
such different meanings – mingled

in crumbs now. What can I do?
Bread is holy, I can’t throw it away.
But , while it is always better

to eat today’s bread companionably,
now I hold these crumbs in cupped hands,
remembering those who baked the bread

and blessed it by sharing:
this way nothing is wasted, this way
I find words in what is broken and lost.

Jan Sutch Pickard, Yanoun

Posted by: Jan | 26 March, 2010

Saying goodbye

Jan, Christina, Joakim, Boel
This is the team with which I have been living in Yanoun for three months, as part of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel. We have shared chores and meals, walked together, learned about (and lived amicably with) each others’ annoying habits. We have laughed and grieved together. We have become a household, almost a family. Tomorrow we’ll travel together to Jerusalem for the last few days before we set off for our separate countries (Britain, Germany, Norway, Sweden), our homes, families, work and where we’ll live the rest of our lives. What we’ll continue to share is this time in Yanoun.

Today is full of goodbyes. We will be seeing our neighbours in the upper village until we leave tomorrow morning, but are still caught up in nearly-last conversations with them, in the midst of their busy lives and our packing. Rashed, the Mayor, we have seen daily; we Ecumenical Accompaniers are accountable to him, and he has guided us gently, like a good shepherd, as we learned our role, respecting the boundaries, making mistakes, making friends, gradually being accepted by the community. We have seen less of the Deputy Mayor, Adnan, but today made one more journey down the valley road to the lower village, past the poppy field and the trees now full of green almonds. We went to thank him for the insights he has shared with us on a couple of occasions. He talked about this Programme and our presence among people who live under an Occupation imposed by force. One thing that he said, in particular, will stay with us:

‘You do not have guns, but your pens and cameras are even more powerful.’
'Your pens and your cameras are even more powerful'

Posted by: Jan | 25 March, 2010

Morning walks

I am writing this in a power cut, but time is running out as well as the batteries of this laptop . I just stepped outside, and saw that moonlight is caressing the valley. Normally we miss the moon and stars because of the sodium lights in the village, and the very bright lights from the outpost on the hill opposite. Now theirs are on, but not ours – nor are there any lights in the little town of Aqraba, four miles away. The Israeli settlements are on a different grid from the Palestinian villages. Right now, in a deeper darkness than most nights, I’m thinking about the light in which we’ve walked, morning by morning, through the valley.

And will make notes, while the batteries last…
Early sun, and plunging into the cool shadow on the valley bottom.
Voices of doves, pigeons, cuckoo, hoopoe, the persistent tapping of a woodpecker.
A woman of my own age sitting on a rock, wearing the keffieh of her dead husband, watching her sheep graze and looking out over the valley.
Red earth, green crops, red poppies among the wheat.
Wildflowers too many to many to count. Some like coloured cloths thrown across the stony ground. Some like jewels set among the rocks. Some already fading now the rains have come and gone.
Spiky spiny plants of many kinds; nettles like ours but with green pom-poms instead of flowers – and seeming to have an extra strong sting in every part.
A sinister velvet black and purple version of wild arum, in profusion just now.
The spread wings of an eagle gliding to roost on the hillside beyond Nabi Nun.
Sound of a donkey bell, as it grazes alongside the flock, and a dog barking in the clear air.
A family who have come to work in their fields picnicking under a tree, inviting us to come and drink mint tea from a black kettle.
Laughter.
A quick green-brown lizard among the pale rocks, white butterflies in a pas de deux.
Military manoeuvres – fighter planes high in the sky, doing their own dance, with a different meaning.
The fragrance of zatar – wild thyme – freshly gathered and being stripped by Um Hani while it is still fresh, to give the best taste. I stop and sit down and work alongside her for a while, and then walk home with the taste of more mint tea on my tongue and the smell of zatar on my hands.
A dung beetle crossing the track, rolling its precious ball, bigger than itself, slowly going on its way.
Which reminds me – I must go and pack.

Posted by: Jan | 23 March, 2010

Yes, I sing to the sheep

Not one, but two sheep stories today…

The first has just happened. At the end of this afternoon I walked up the track as far as the boundary rock, to look at the outpost structures on the hill to the east of Yanoun. The track goes further, right up what we call the east valley, past the vineyard that the settlers have planted up there, to the caravans, the blockhouse, the watch-tower etc. But the boulder marks the limit of where we or the villagers are allowed to go. The settlers have claimed the hilltops and these slopes to the edge of the village.

I sat on the rock and looked and listened to birdsong and the wind in the almond trees. Then I could hear human voices as well, and when I walked down the track, I found myself in the middle of a flock of sheep. Just above their sheep-pen, Um Hani’s family were making the most of the fresh grass and green plants that have sprung up after the rains, almost covering the track. As the sheep grazed, her two sons were capturing one sheep after another and milking them there and then, using one hand on the udder and with the other tilting a small container to catch the milk, while maintaining a kind of wrestler’s hold on the sheep. Um Hani sat nearby, guarding a bucket which was gradually being filled by their efforts. Her daughter in law and two little grandsons were watching and talking to Um Hani. It was a peaceful, productive scene. We greeted each other, talked (in single words) about the evening, the sheep, the milk, the children…and then I walked on to where the track joins the road into the village.

Suddenly I heard shouting: ‘Jan, Jan – Come – come! Mustawtinin (settlers)!’ I turned and hurried back to where Um Hani and Jaffar were shouting. I was aware that a vehicle was coming up the track behind me, from the valley road. I saw that the men had the gate of the sheep-pen open, and the flock was running inside. They were followed by the mother with her two little boys. By the time the pick-up truck came round the corner the two men were inside the gate too, and Um Hani and I standing on the rock just by the gate of the sheep-pen.

We stood, two elderly ladies, watching the young religiously-dressed settler who drove slowly past, watching us. It was strange having eye-contact with someone who lives so close and leads such a separate life – and yet a way of life that has an enormous impact on Um Hani and her family. He drove on, passed the boulder, went round the corner of the track and out of sight. The family came out of the sheep-fold, and we talked a little, before I walked back home. Nothing bad had happened. He hadn’t used his weapon (it would have been lying across the passenger seat). They had none. No one threw a stone. No words were exchanged. But it didn’t feel like an encounter between neighbours.

And the other sheep story: yesterday two of us took the four people, who will be replacing us in Yanoun in a few days’ time, for a walk down the valley. As we set off, we noticed, high up, the figure of a settler, guarding animals from one of the huge barns on the tops. The flock was grazing on the village side of the fence that the settlers have erected round the land they have claimed. The shepherds from the village don’t go up the hill high enough to try to graze the land they are losing. It would be an unequal contest.

We walked on where the valley narrows. On winter mornings, before the sun had fully risen, this part was dark and chilly, between the rocks. But now the sun had cleared the hilltops, so that the stones of the road, and the terraces and the quarry that marks the half-way point were all heating up. The sky above was cloudless. We knew that Kemal, our neighbour, had led his flock down the road earlier, but we couldn’t see him on the roadside or among the olive trees. Then we heard someone singing: plaintive and steady, a song that seemed to belong to the rocks, and the olive trees, the ploughed earth underneath them and the sky above. It was tuneful and beautiful. It was Kemal. He was up there on the hillside, walking sure-footed along one of the limestone edges, leading his flock of sheep and goats to find fresh grass. He waved to us, and went on walking, and singing. Because the valley is so narrow, it carried his voice to us a long way down the road.

This evening I met him as he brought the sheep home. ‘Kemal, do you always sing to your sheep?’ Standing waist-deep in his flock, he smiled at me, as though I was asking a daft question. ‘Yes, I sing to the sheep. They know my voice, and when I sing they follow me, not go into danger, find grass. The goats too – they are gentle, and they come with me – when I sing.’

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