Readings from the Book of Exile by Pádraig O Tuama

(Canterbury Press Norwich; London, 2012)

It may seem out of order to write about Readings from the Book of Exile after promoting events with Pádraig in Melbourne for the last month, but Pádraig is best as a performance poet, so listening to the poems brings them to life in a way that reading perhaps cannot and I now have more to say! Having said that, I still think you should go out and buy this little book, together with a new release of poems which is due out in August called Sorry for your Troubles, which is birthed out of his reconciliation work.

One of my favourite poems of all times is in this collection: ‘Dominic and Jenny’s Sex Life’.  When I first heard it, I felt like I’d been hit by a hot wind.  When I last heard it, I cried from longing to become one with the poem.  Dominic and Jenny are dancing together at a party: not slow dancing, but fun, romp-a-stomp, full-of-life dancing!  The rhythm of the words pulsates under my skin like the loud thud-thud of way-too-loud party music.  Here’s a snippet from the middle of the poem:

With rhythm in his tender boots

and she exulting in the love that she is living

the life that she is loving.

Oh, I give you all my rage and my affection

my love and resurrection dreams.

I fling my hands up in the air

I have no cares upon me now

I dance around your body

and we are made here in this space,

born again to our own worlds,

hurled upon this

Dance Floor Centre Stage.

I recently heard Les Murry suggest that there were three elements to poetic communication: daylight consciousness, dreaming, and the body (it’s breath, rhythm and dance).  If this is the case, then I can say about myself that I receive a poet’s message through the body first; it is my particular starting point with words.  Perhaps that is why I love Pádraig’s words: they have a vibrant rhythm to them that carries me up into the story of the words where I can know whatever it is the story has to teach me with a deep, sensory knowing.

The older I get, the more I value reading theology through the poetic form: somehow it is better able to capture the subtlety of things – the fact that we can know God without ever really knowing God.  There is a freedom in speaking about God this way, a freedom from the expectation that our words are capable of containment, that God will always be bigger, better and beyond our wildest dreams.  With gratitude then, do I read seven ‘readings from the book of exile’ which form the structure of the book’s corpus, and the many other poems which address faith and the human spirit.  I am thankful for my Irish brother Pádraig, for living the life he has been given in order to write these words which now accompany me in mine.

(There are a number of youtube clips, etc where you can see/hear Pádraig speak but he’s a poet – he needs us to buy his books so he can eat!)

Pádraig in Melbourne

Apologies to my international readers, but I’m about to post a series of really wonderful events to come along to in Melbourne.

Pádraig Ó Tuama is a delightful Irish poet in Melbourne for three months doing a stint as poet-in-residence for the Uniting Church.  I am involved in promoting a couple of public events which promise to be very special.  Pádraig is a poet, justice activist and theologian from Belfast.  He has a beautiful way of seeing the world, and an even more beautiful way of speaking about it.

I’ve set up a wordpress site as a conduit for a number of his public events that are being organised by various groups around Melbourne, which he is squeezing into an already full program working with various Uniting Church staff and volunteers.  Go check it out and get along to whatever you can!

‘Wisdom’ by Sebastian Moore

In Sebastian Moore and Kevin Maguire, The Experience of Prayer(London: Darton, Longman & Todd; 1969)

The blog has suffered of late as I’ve been busy with other stuff:  at the start of June I presented my PhD proposal to the postgraduate seminar at St Marks Canberra.  I informally introduced my proposal with a couple of personal stories of love and the first two stanzas of this poem from Sebastian Moore.  It’s a gem.


We have lived too long without wisdom

on which alone the soul feeds:

wisdom is the structure of loving:

without it the heart is wild.

So a community without wisdom

is a collection of private wildernesses

growing more slowly with age

waiting for the full stop.


The heart, when young, is wild:

absolutely requiring the lover’s hand

it may not deny this requirement

in any of its details

and every detail is pain,

and the heart’s pain will either create hell around

or it will be denied

unless there comes the ordering

from within the heart

which is the heart becoming beautiful:

and a community whose commitment

precludes (I suppose) the lover’s hand

and ‘the sweet disorder of her dress’

is desperately in need of wisdom.


A community that has no word

for one tortured on the detail of loving,

a community without the detailed word of wisdom ,

is coarse and unschooled

whatever its spiritual pretensions,

its God an old colour-sergeant

for all the spiritual reading.


Wisdom is born in love

making the heart a city,

every movement of heart anguish

becoming a straight way.


Wisdom is born of God,

makes the heart the City of God.


Those who inhabit the city

have discovered love’s secret

which love by itself can hardly impart,

and indeed wisdom is of God

for whence on earth can a man learn

that a man’s love is himself,

that the difference between two loves

is precisely the difference between two people

whose love is to be to each other

without tyranny,

whose love is to be, together,

whose love is to be the polis:

whence on earth is learned

this courtesy without polish

consenting to the humble?

love is life itself

the sinful woman anointing jesus' feet with her tears

“I know who you are”

declared his gaze

and I fell over once again

stumbling like a cripple

paralysed by longing




If only love were rational

and could be brought into line by cognitive will.


love rises up from the depths

and until it is free

it is the leviathan of dark waters.


Love is but a made up word

and should not be expected to carry the weight

of the experience it is striving to name.

And yet I find I need to say those words ‘I love you’

and I need to hear those words ‘I love you’

and I need to know those words ‘I love you’

in power and in truth.


It is simple.

I am summed up by these four bless-ed letters

containing all life and meaning

and all I ever want ever again

is to love and be loved.



is life itself.

Heidegger on ‘The Thinker As Poet’

(In Poetry, Language, Thought (Harper Collins, NY, 1971)

Read Heidegger whilst sipping cafe au lai in the South of France this morning:

When on a summer’s day the butterfly

settles on the flower and, wings

closed, sways with it in the


All our heart’s courage is the

echoing response to the

first call of Being which

gathers our thinking into the

play of the world.

In thinking all things

become solitary and slow.

Patience nurtures magnanimity.

He who thinks greatly must

err greatly.

‘this THE CALL’ by Sebastian Moore


The time I took my life into my prayer
Was when I said to you, simply, you bore me
For then it happened, you were everywhere
And my life suddenly no longer stormy.

The self within and what I call my life
Became identical and I was new
The preferential option for the strife
Dissolved as you gave me yourself as you.

This is the bliss that waits upon us all
Who have to learn a self no longer two,
The dualism that prevents the call
From coming through to the deep self from you

To tell us as no one on earth is able
That we are loved, and not otherwise stable.

‘If I could just be one, no longer two’ by Sebastian Moore


If I could just be one, no longer two
With me controlling me to keep me straight
Paying a toll that is forever due
And always, O always a little late.

You draw me down into the one of prayer
My mind on nothing in particular
And it is lovely, happiness as rare
Never yet known, with love’s protracted Ah!

Fall into one is to come into now,
This is the luxury of real time
To take the furrow from the oldest brow
And drench the soul in the sweet Jesus crime

Which, seen with Easter eyes, makes generous
My will beyond reach of the curious.