By Will Small.
Every morning, shortly after I force myself out of bed, I drink a cup of brown-gold goodness, extracted from hot water passing through ground-up grains that were roasted beans seconds ago, and the seeds of a bitter cherry at some point in the past. I pour velvety textured milk on top at the perfect temperature to maintain flavour and sweetness, and my heart leaps to life again. That’s an excessive (and obsessive) description of an everyday coffee, but my friends tell me I’m a little more zealous about the stuff than your average cup-drinking Joe.
I live on the beautiful Central Coast of NSW, which was hit recently by the closest I’ve ever experienced to Noah’s Ark weather conditions. Ok, so the Ark thing is an exaggeration, but still – flash-floods, fallen trees everywhere, power outages, 24 hour petrol stations and McDonalds stores closed – it was the kind of weather that cries for building a blanket fort and watching all six Star-Wars movies straight. One problem though. No electricity.
My wife and I lost power for two nights and days. We got off light (no pun intended); many of our friends had no power for a week. But our small taste of mildly medieval life was enough to test my metals. We burned every available candle, ate corn chips and salsa for dinner one night and went to bed at the embarrassing time of 7:30pm. We functioned at a pretty basic level of existence without power. As a fairly un-resourceful Gen-Y poet, I tend to rely on other people to do all the practically useful stuff that keeps the world turning. I read about what humans can do under enormous adverse circumstances….but I’m sceptical I’d be able to survive any problem that couldn’t be solved somehow by literary means.
I missed the lights. I missed the oven, the microwave, the fridge. But as a Bona Fide coffee snob, I missed my little espresso machine more than anything else. Sure, I missed the caffeine, and I had a cracking afternoon headache to remind me that. More though, I missed the ritual. Coffee is this small thing that seems to hold a lot of my routine together. It creates an un-rushed part of my morning; something I expect every day. When I drink that cup of sweet nectar, I do so while reading ancient words from a library of texts I like to spend time with. I sit, I savour, I soak in old wisdom.
In this ancient library of texts, there’s this strange little poem/prayer called the 23rd Psalm. Even if you’re one to avoid the steeple, you’ve probably heard bits of it here and there. ‘The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want…’, and ‘…though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil….’. You know the one? It was written by a guy named David, who almost makes Kanye West look like a stable human being at times. The reason it’s strange is because it opens with these really serene images of quiet pastures and peaceful streams of life-giving water. And then almost immediately the scenery shifts into ‘the valley of the shadow of death’. It’s a strong contrast. And then David says:
You prepare a table for me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
For most of us, our ‘enemies’ are just people that send us spam emails or cut us off in merging lanes. David had the good old fashioned kind of enemies that are always scheming ways to knock your head off. And yet, he’s writing about eating a meal, right there in the presence of these enemies, and in the same breath proclaiming that goodness is going to follow him, all the days of his life.
I get the feeling David knows a thing or two about ‘Shalom’ – this old Hebrew word that basically means peace. Things in their right place. All things, as they should be.
The thing I’ve been wondering is, do you really know if you have Shalom, before it’s interrupted? Is it possible to still have a deep sense of peace when the power’s out, the lights are off, and you’re sitting eating a cold meal of corn chips, in the presence of your enemies?
When our rhythms are interrupted, it’s hard not to stop and ask: where does my Shalom come from? In what, or whom, does my soul rest?
Is it my coffee machine? Is it my access to my social media accounts? Is it the roof above my head or my postcode?
I’ll be sharing some spoken word poetry around this idea of ‘Shalom’ at LifeWell conference in Adelaide.
This Shalom business is a complex cocktail I don’t pretend to have mastered. But Psalm 23 leads me to believe that there’s a soul peace, a deep rhythm of wellness, that is not dependent on creature comforts, such as latte’s and power-points.
And I have a hunch that it’s not found in a thing. But a who.
The one, who is right there in the chaos, when the power is out, and the enemies are at the door. Setting the table.
Will Small is a writer and spoken word artist with an ear for rhythm, a heart for justice and a belief in the human act of storytelling.
Hear more from Will at LifeWell Conference: lifewellconference.com.au