At six minutes and 14 seconds into the new year…

Sydney, New Year's Eve, Fireworks, 2013, Leichhardt, photo, time, new year

At six minutes and 14 seconds past midnight on January 1, 2013 I took this photo.

I didn’t know this at the time, but my phone did, on which I captured the image.

At the same moment a person in front raised their hand also to take a photo so that it appears they are balancing an explosion on their fist.

Here we all are, leaning forward toward the new year, counting down the solidity of year with the stuff of split-seconds.

We have so much information at our fingertips without trying, down to the unconscious moment of tapping for a photo… and yet faced with a new year we know nothing at all, not even today, not even tomorrow.

If the psalmist David was among the crowd on this balmy Sydney night, passing through the crowd with reflective gaze, he may have strolled back up the hill in his shorts, thongs and a Tigers t-shirt, typing as he walked:

“The life of mortals is like fireworks,
they flourish like a sparkle in the night.” *

And at the same time, sensing Someone eternal, walking alongside.

* Psalm 103:15-17 – The life of mortals is like grass,
they flourish like a flower of the field;
16 the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more.
17 But from everlasting to everlasting
the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,



The complexity of command, conscience and covenant: new year reflection

The Christian life is a complex interplay of command, conscience and covenant – and none of these words are particularly popular or well understood in our culture or, perhaps, by many in the church.

traffic, conscience, right, wrong, covenant, maturity, choice, freedomFrom time to time debates rage in one corner of Christendom or another as to what Christians should or shouldn’t do and rarely is a mature understanding of these coexistent realities displayed.

Simplistically we could draw understanding from the humble traffic light. Red and green are commands and amber is more or less a matter of personal decision or conscience. Red does not ask you if you feel you should stop, it tells you that you must. Amber however allows you some measure of consideration. And green, like red, is a command to go and if you are in doubt about that you have not experienced missing a green light in Sydney traffic.

The context for the command and conscience of the traffic light is the covenant we all have with each other that we will obey the traffic rules, including traffic lights, and likewise drive safely and responsibly. When we as a community balance command, conscience and covenant well, there is relative safety and amenity on our roads. When these three are out of shape – frustration, damage and even death can result.

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Peace on earth, good will…

Peace on earth?

children, massacre, violence, peace on earth, Don’t tell me there’s a
book, blog or documentary
pope, priest or commentary
that will make it alright

Can’t yell me to believe in
stronger  legislation
better educate them
to take away the fright

I’m not going for no
positive reinforcement
expert’s free endorsement
to mitigate the sight

22, Chenpeng children, kitchen-knife stabbed, village school
20, Newtown little ones, gunshot dead, kindergarten classroom
10, Dawlatzai innocents, bombshell bled, collecting firewood
And that’s just this week

I don’t wanna make sense of
Everything that’s senseless
Everything that’s broken
to help me through the night

There’s nothing you can show me
That undoes all the madness
Liberates the sadness
Or sends all the children home

But I can still remember
A broken twisted traitor
Who said he was a Saviour
Who radiated right

And I can still feel
A resonance of matter
Perpetuance of laughter
An ever outsourced light

Good will…

Photo: Robert Davies, UK

Return to me on the mountain and don’t smash your future

“Prepare two stone tablets like the first ones, and make a sacred chest out of acacia wood to keep them in. Return to me on the mountain, and I will write on the tablets the same words that were on the ones you smashed.” Deuteronomy 10:1-2

Bible, future, recovery, God, MosesMoses had spent 40 days removed from the normal rhythms of life in the presence of God receiving a blueprint for the future, an agreement for living, a look at how things could be, all written in stone by the finger of God.

Then God gives Moses those tablets, bearing the words of the 10 Commandments,  even though he knew it was going wildly skewiff on the ground. No doubt God was peeved too but it was Moses, tired and hungry after a 40 day fast and difficult climb, who took the ‘future’ and smashed it in the midst of his community’s messy ‘present’.

Things don’t always work out the way we expect. Our most holy moments can end up trampled on by golden calves. Outraged, brutalised, despairing, we smash the future in our all or nothing reaction just as Moses smashed the tablets God had given him.Read More »

Slim Moment

Mantel’s Cromwell stands amidst the past like a house burned down

It fattens your thought like cholesterol in your veins
Like tar in your lungs
The past clings to things heavily
And you carry the weight without knowing
Your fastest manoeuvre is leadened, leavened
And you blame the present
Ignoring the heavy metal armour of yesterday
But in a slim moment you glimpse
You – divested of this insulation to life
A sharper, faster, nimbler you
One that was forgotten; no, more than that
One you didn’t know existed.

Can you forego once and for all
This raking of the coals
This teasing of your soul
Your sabotage of certainty and seasons
Ah, of course there is no once and for all
That is what keeps you there, in the past
Unfinished business that can’t be finished
So unfinish it with His “Finished”
Even deadly, devout Cromwell knew as much

Poetry of rock in motion

Rock is like water, only slower.

Walking along a rock platform today I saw waves coursing through the stone, swells and surges of infinite patience, little turgid trickles, the splatter of very slow rain, a steady splash and cheeky, rocky streams.

Shapes and forms, pleasing to the eye, that take seconds to occur in water minutes or hours in sand and centuries or millennia in stone.

And yet the rock has its movement, too slow for our perception, rendering it still to our transient eyes.

But for the Inhabiter of ages, for whom a thousand years is a day and moments are a lifetime, all is poetry in motion.

Which is why I walk peacefully on watery rock and Jesus saunters on solid water.

Fireworks at Eiffel Tower Copyright Peter Hallett 2012

Paris celebrates Bastille Day 2012: photos

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Bastille Day seemed to us Australians something like a mix between Anzac Day and Australia Day with fewer barbecues and more tanks and fighter planes.

There were lots of crowds moving quietly to watch parades, flyovers and fireworks and just as many watching the passing crowds from the forward-facing chairs of cafes.

As we arrived at the fireworks, a short walk from where we are staying, it was somewhat like Sydney’s New Year’s Eve fireworks only the iron of the bridge had morphed into a giant tower.

So conditioned am I by the Sydney event, when the fireworks were under way I kissed my wife and said Happy New Year! Or perhaps that was just an excuse… Enjoy our small photographic selection

Ceiling of the Dome Church

Skimming and delving through life and travel with war, segways and macaroons

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“That was travel… A dance across surfaces to see the face of everything and learn the meaning of very little.”

Thomas Keneally has one of his characters think this thought in his new novel, The Daughters of Mars,  as she travels by train through Egypt to board the hospital ship Archimedes during World War I. The story tells of Australian nurses who serve at Gallipoli and then at the Western Front, an apt book to read while touring France.

The danger of skimming and never learning is as much a risk of life as it is travel but no doubt the tourist mentality heightens this risk as people skip from one famous site to another, record endlessly on their devices, but take very little time to absorb meaning.

An inquiring mind, open heart and keen eye are as useful in travel as in life to remedy the dearth of meaning that can so often diminish our days. On the other hand, sometimes the constant barrage of meaning in cathedrals and chateaus and cities and coffins is too much and some pleasant moments with a pistachio macaroon are just as important…

On our last day before returning to Paris we visited Francois 1’s château Chambord, possibly built along the architectural principles of the king’s favourite Italian artist and thinker, Leonardo da Vinci. Its central dual staircase which allows people to climb up entwining stairs without ever meeting is reminiscent of some of da Vinci’s drawings which we saw at Le Clos Luce, Amboise, where da Vinci lived and died in the service of Francois.

And the meaning of this imposing structure: a chance for the king to build his own château from scratch, to demonstrate his power and wealth, and to have extensive grounds for hunting. Now the tourist has conquered and at least we are free to share this indulgence and feel a connection with history, such as it is.

Perhaps as instructive as the architecture was sharing a meal in a nearby cafe afterwards and assisting the French waiter with a little English and no Italian explain to some slightly bewildered Venetian tourists with no English or French that the special of the day was fish. We Australians did somewhat better than the French waiter, no doubt because we come from Leichhardt! There was some admirable French indignation when the affable but fiery Italians refused to be served the dessert that came with the special of the day and we came to understand how Europe has so often found itself at war. There’s some meaning for you…

Speaking of war, having solved the riddle which is the location of the Europcar depot at Montparnasse (four levels underground marked by a six inch sign near the Pullman hotel and no where near where it is advertised as being located) we returned our hire car – undamaged but witness to some minor cursing – and after a pleasant evening with friends, went walking the next morning, past the Eiffel Tower, nonchalantly, to see L’Hôtel national des Invalides.

This imposing structure was built by Louis XIV as a home and hospital for aged and infirm soldiers but not content with its pleasing and unadorned chapel, he had a new private, royal chapel built known commonly as the Dome Church. Much later it became the resting place of Napoleon and several other national figures and at eye level is more aptly named (by me) ‘Le halle of massive coffins’. Napoleon is encased in no less than six coffins, the largest exterior one appearing to be the size of a large van but proportions are hard to determine in so grand a space. Much dusting required no doubt.

Having found seats on which we could recline to enjoy the dome ceiling we then toured the military museum which actually provided a very useful and brief history lesson on the origins of WWI and WWII. A group of young Australian men came through and while respectful in a Cronulla beach kind of way, seemed larger than life, loudly commenting and questioning as if the world belonged to them, carrying the same bravado many of our diggers did when they “toured” Europe in the early 1900s. It was impossible not to enjoy their confident if at times misinformed commentary but our national ‘presence’ must still be a mystery to the somewhat sombre French.

Coming out of this other-world towards the Seine, under the still watchful eyes of Napoleon, we walked back to our abode in Paris’ “15 district”, again passing the Eiffel Tower where I paused to trim my finger nails while a bride and groom had their photo taken and a scurry of segways surrounded us.