For years now, Michael Leunig has encouraged us to search for the soul, for our inner voice. The ways in which we connect to our human spirit and reap its treasures of integrity, love, and creativity is a personal thing. For me, it’s linking with positive people, and the luxury of headspace, or mental silence. And reading ‘A Common Prayer’ by Leunig.
We are hungry for Leunig’s simple truths. But are they simple? Take for example:
There are only two feelings. Love and fear.
There are only two languages. Love and fear.
There are only two activities. Love and fear.
There are only two motives, two procedures, two frameworks, two results.
Love and fear. Love and fear. (Leunig)
Besides faith, peace, love (and fear), Leunig’s spiritual prayers often give thanks for secular qualities and natural metaphors. Universal things like ducks, tomatoes, the nest of summer, the miracle of spring, pets, the entombed heart, ecology, shy truths, singers, and simplicity. Yes, melancholy is there too, but most of all, hope.
I have used Leunig’s prayers about birds and tomatoes as models for primary school students. After reading them out loud, I share my own version, where I give thanks for my daughters, their wild imaginations, their pouncing on the big bed, sharing cuddles, reading books together, Lego (thank you, God, for Lego), trampolines, eggs and noodles, the resilience of guinea pigs, the honesty of dogs, pizza movie nights, camping etc. After discussion, once students get the hang of it, they are keen to write their own poetry, and their honest, simple efforts always blow me away. Sure, some students want the latest and most amazing whiz-bang toy, phone, game etc. But another side of childhood emerges that truly humbles me. Children offer hope that their parents will get back together, that their dog is happy in Heaven, that their mother never has to go to hospital again. They give thanks for the way their Dad makes pancakes, for feeling safe, even that their parents are strict (kids aren’t stupid)! They express appreciation for being loved, or sadly wanting more, how they fear the death of loved ones, even annoying siblings get positive mentions. Like Leunig intended, you hear their raw, inner voices. It’s the most honest, uncontrived, social bonding I’ve seen in a classroom.
Love your work. Thank you, Michael Leunig.
I’m going to finish with a Leunig poem about mothers that gives me goose bumps every time.
God be with the mother. As she carried her child may she carry her soul. As her child was born, may she give birth and life and form to her own higher truth. As she nourished and protected her child, may she nourish and protect her inner life and her independence. For her soul shall be her most painful birth, her most difficult child, and the dearest sister to her other children.