In this I have been struck by the striking resemblance. Veronica’s life bears with two figures of depth and imagination. Francis Webb, the Australian poet, and Jacques Derrida, the Algerian philosopher. Each of these visionaries found in themselves a compelling need to identify with the marginalised – those who are most often pushed out of sight and left to struggle without support, and out of that need was born the determination to do away with constraining structures that imprison people in a state of disguise and pretence, the blinding structures based on power, that render blind people from knowing what it means to be human. The first call of humanity for all stands without option, to put first in our life what society regards as the last and. least.
To loath suffering in you
As in myself, that arcane simmering brew.
Veronica was like Webb, a disindoctrinator, when indoctrination has come to take the shape of heavy grooves and deeply established ruts in the patterns of religious life in all its forms.
Similarly, Jacques Derrida has come to be known as the father of deconstructionalism because he was so revolted by the way structures are used to destroy heartfulness in the ay people who manipulate the structures of power and control in the very act of ignoring those who are entitled to be served first.
Veronica was indeed a deconstructionalist and she had her own inimitable way of deflating pretentiousness in Church governance, the empty words deprived of any spiritual sound. She had been round this track a million times before so she met this phenomenon with a wordless knowing smile. Those joggers which she asked to be placed on her coffin represent, not only the instruments of freedom which she used to skip and dance through mysterious and mystic places on mountain tops and valleys of Australia and of Ireland, but they also represent the running away from cruelty which she knew from her earliest days when she was a Ward of the State; she had a self-trained ear for hearing the sounds of ruthlessness in the voices of politicians in Parliament or religious life. As she sighed at the murder of the forests she was moved to a healthy irreverence towards empty religious phrases that in reality cloaked comfort and secular power. Two verses of John Shaw Neilson bite their way home.
It is a part of you, however long.
Still you are rebel, all the Gods defying,
Offering no tiresome honey in your song.
What is it that you see, what thing is wrong?
Can you with your dull eyes that gleam suspicious
See in the darkness Lucifer malicious?
Sister, you have irreverence, ’tis salvation:
For the dull world it is the sorest need.
That wayward fire, men call it Indignation,
Spurs the lone hero to the perilous deed.
It finds the flaw in many a tiresome creed.
Though you and I go westward unlamented,
Let us at least be stoutly discontented.
Christ counselled the rich young man to rid himself of all that pecuniary baggage if he was to find life, so Veronica detected the fraudulence of the rich young nuns of this world and her life quietly offered the implied suggestion of advice that they drop their load of worldly compromise if ever they could find life, and indeed offer life to others. This diminutive woman was the one who actually stood towering over the religiously counterfeit by the simple unconcealable test of knowing them by their fruits. While they stood fatuously tongue-tied, spiritually impotent and impatient for the next round of vacuous board-room talks, carefully honing the very Gospel into the shape of economic rationalism, she was reaching deep into wells of mystical and Celtic spirituality. While their greatest fear might be of losing status, honour or role, Veronica made it perfectly clear that she had nothing whatsoever to lose. She was her own woman, and it was clear that she would stay that way to the end.
The way she dealt with the processes of her own dying were by any standards impressive. I would like to offer you 3 poems by John Shaw Neil on as they seem to hint at the spiritually incisive power of this woman who remained open to the grandeur of the earth, the colours and the perfumes of the flowers and the song of the birds.
She has not peace; she hungers still for the clean air,
She did not grow in the city, but was wickedly taken there.
She has not peace in the city; oh, she is strangely stirred
With the green leaves, and the manna, and the low voice of a bird.
The tied-up folk in the city, they say she has never smiled
But she will talk to a little bird as a mother to a child.
Ever in noise of Folly she wanders ill at ease
Only in dreams she travels for a playtime with the trees.
Oh the trees are a proud people, and they have proud ways,
And the leaves have a strange courage in the moistening of the days.
The tied-up people see her; they laugh at her shoes and gown,
For she is a forest woman, who was carried into the town
At noonday or midnight we know that the flowers do invade us
Not alone with sweet colour nor any quick speech that they know
They tell us in haste of the wish of the God that ‘has made us
In sunlight or in conquest, as songs in a (drink) so they find us
They tell us to dance, though we move not.
We strive to be happy, and here is the bloom that can blind us.
In shadows, the blackest of shadows, the flowers do invade us
They bid us remember the things that can never be told.
They speak for the dead, and the dead with the flowers can upbraid us.
Though the years and the sorrows the close prisoners have made us
Though the hills that we climb not they laugh at how long they delayed us,
But whispering here in the gloom still the flowers still do invade us.
They are not bitter at all who have fallen before us,
How diligent are they forever in quiet chorus,
They sing without lips, and still without speech they implore us.
They speak not of torment
Not blackness nor sin.
Quietly as angels come
Do the flowers come in.
Forgetting all frailties
With sweet scent they give back
Sight to the blind.
See, they come quickly
As rainbows come.
Beckoning they give back
Speech to the dumb.
From green hills they journey,
Where joys first came.
Whispering they give back
Young feet to the lame.
Then there are the words of the Irishman John O’Donohue, who was Veronica’s friend:
deadens on your shoulders
and you stumble,
May the clay dance to balance you
And when your eyes freeze behind
the grey window and the ghost of loss
gets into you,
Maya flock of colours, indigo, red
green and azure blue
Come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.
When the canvas frays in the
curack of thought and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
May there come across the waters,
A path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.
May the nourishment of the earth be yours
May the clarity of light be yours,
May the fluency of the ocean be yours,
May the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow wind work these
words of love around you,
an invisible cloak to mind your life.
C.J.Dennis, who sang so tunefully of our responsibility for custodianship of the earth, composed these lines which were inscribed on the poet’s own tombstone:
This gay green world with peaceful and grateful rest.