I am so grateful to all of those who came along to the launch of Heaven All Around Us. With good friends, good food and champagne, two wonderful reflections from Bishop Graeme Rutherford and Dianne Brown, and the most captivating presentation from storyteller Jess Holt, the book was officially kicked off with style.
In my own comments, I included these words of introduction:
The title of this book, Heaven All Around Us, is inspired by the words of the Australian songwriter John Williamson. In his song Cootamundra Wattle, he puts to music the bidding of an elderly man to his wife. She sits alone inside their home with an old box of memories on her lap — bunny rugs and family pictures. As she holds these objects, there are tears as she recalls moments of joy and grief long ago. Perhaps she longs for reunions that only heaven can bring.
In the song, the husband prods gently, inviting his wife to put these things aside and come outside: “There’s all the colours of the rainbow in the garden,” he says to her, “and symphonies of music in the sky. Heaven’s all around us if you’re looking, but how can you see it if you cry.” While I’m not sure his response to his wife’s tears is the most appropriate one, there is a truth here about the beauty and wonder of the present moment, the capacity of what is immediately around us to speak meaning, love and healing into our lives.
As a student of spirituality these last thirty years, I have a long-held fascination with the ways people, through history, have sought meaning and a sense of the transcendent in their lives. As a minister of religion, I have given much of my professional life to nurturing in others a deeper sense of God and of the sacredness of life itself. In all of this, what I have found constantly frustrating is that the dominant language and most commonly accepted rituals of spirituality, most especially in the church, call us to leave behind the ordinariness of our daily lives in order to commune with God in some other place. It’s a spirituality of monasteries and mountaintops, of churches, deserts, solitude and retreat. These are important, of course. They can each play an important role in our spiritual journey as they have done in my own. But what about the rest of life? Where is God when we return from the desert, when we come down from the mountain top, or leave the church behind for another week? Where is our sense of meaning in our homes and neighbourhoods, our shopping malls and sporting arenas? What sense of the sacred can we find in the daily obligations of family and work, in our friendships, our study and our chores?
The reality is, it is these things that take up so much of our lives and where we most need a sense of meaning and purpose, a sense of God. What’s more, it is my view that models of spirituality which do nothing but lead us away from the pressing realities of our world as it is run the risk of reducing spirituality to a purely self-indulgent exercise. For those of us concerned for nurturing a deeper sense of the Spirit in our world, this should be of concern. In all of that, I do hope that this book can make a small contribution to a more far-reaching expression of our faith.
Depending on where you are, you can purchase the book in a number for places. If you are in Australia, the best place to go is the local distributor Morning Star Publishing. You can also order it through Book Depository. If you are in the US, you can order directly through Wipf & Stock, Amazon or ChristianBooks.
And my thanks to photographer Geoff Maddock for his beautiful images from the night.