‘Phosphorescence – On awe, wonder and the things that sustain you when the world goes dark.’ by Julia Baird

‘Phosphorescence – On awe, wonder and the things that sustain you when the world goes dark.’ by Julia Baird

Having recently read this inspirational book I would like to share my thoughts about it with you. We are great fans of Julia Baird, host of the excellent ABC current affairs program ‘The Drum’ and also co-worker of ourdaughter-in-law Hayley Gleeson whom Julia acknowledges in her book as her ‘exceptional work-sister’. Julia writes columns for both The New York Times and The Sydney Morning Herald. Her biography of Queen Victoria was one of New York Times’ top ten books of 2016.

Phosphorescence refers to the luminous beings found in nature, forests and ocean depths – for example, glow worms, fireflies, vampire squid, lantern sharks – which emit an inner glow. Julia sees the light emitted as a perfect metaphor for flashes of light and joy in the darkness of difficult times. Julia is convinced that God is the ultimate source of phosphorescence ­ “the light we can absorb to later emit”.

The book comprises a series of articles describing the support that can sustain us in times of difficulty like grief, illness, pain and darkness. Julia draws on her experience of facing three life threatening health scares with accompanying serious surgeries and how these terrifying near-death experiences have influenced her faith, her loyal friendships, her care for others, especially the most vulnerable and her general attitude to life – “if we can shift our focus away from self and towards others, we experience a freeing effect”.

These sustaining supports include telling and listening to stories, accepting our imperfections, savouring every moment, lower our expectations, having a sense of purpose, love of nature, particularly the ocean (she regularly participates in a 2 km swim from Manly Beach around the point and back) finding joy in the achievements of others, paying attention to life around us and many more.

She has spent several periods living and working in New York, first of all as a child living with her family and later on when she was columnist and senior editor at Newsweek in New York.  As the daughter of politician Bruce Baird and sister of Mike Baird, former Premier of New South Wales, the love and loyalty of her family and close friends are obviously very important to her. Two of the chapters are devoted to messages to each of her two children.

Julia writes of being actively involved in fights for gender equality, LGBTQI rights, marriage equality and particularly for equality of women in the leadership of the Sydney Anglican Diocese. As a person of a deep Christian faith, Julia denounces the pomp and ceremony and hierarchy of the church and emphasises instead the social justice and love of Jesus and his message to treat others as you would have them treat you. “The church needs to return to its core business: preaching and practising a gospel of love. When we are absorbed only with morality debates, we forget what a close community a church can be, and what a comfort it can provide.” She goes on to talk about “developing a daily practice of quiet and prayer, of meditating on how to love, how to forgive, how to be stronger and calmer, how to interpret ancient writings in a modern world, and respecting that there is a spiritual dimension to life, which I see so clearly now in our yearning for awe and an understanding of our own smallness.” 

I thoroughly recommend this recently published, sensitive and entertaining book. Serendipitously, it is a comforting and inspiring read during this time of uncertainty.