I have just been up to Broome and Derby, spending a week with the Mowanjum aboriginal community. Matt and I are part of the Boab network, a network of people standing and walking with the community as they try to navigate their way forward in our world. This is the third time we have been there, helping to run a school holiday program for the kids, both primary and early high school.
This trip was a bit different. Because of the mix of people present and our ongoing connection, we were able to speak and share with a number of the elders of the community. Hearing their stories was a gift to us, needing time and an open heart, and they gave both generously. This openness and warmth and their resilience opened my eyes to something far deeper, what lies behind much of what we see on the surface. Hearing just a tiny bit of their stories suddenly made me realise how close some of the terrible injustices are to our own generation, how much pain and sorrow many of these people endured and continue to endure, and how holding to their culture, and their family ties helps them survive and go on.
While up in Derby I was also reading Stan Grant’s book, “Talking to my country”, where he writes about his own upbringing as an aboriginal man in Australia, his escape to roam the world as an international journalist, and his return home to acknowledge his own identity. It was a good time to read it! He writes beautifully and painfully about the dispossession, both of land and children, the atrocities perpetrated and the challenges still facing aboriginal people in this country to be accepted as equals. I recommend everyone to read his book. For he writes not just for his people, the Wiradjuri tribe, or the people of Mowanjum, or the Nyoongar people but all ingenious people in Australia. And he writes to us.
And I want to respond.
I write this blog not to deny the problems and issues that are currently being faced by indigenous people here, and which is very much a part of the Mowanjum experience. Problems that come from so many sources. How is it in the 21st century that there is still a higher infant mortality, lower life expectancy, terrible health conditions, higher suicide rates, some of the worst in the world and a higher percentage of aboriginal people in our jails compared to our white population? And communities with very little resources and incredible unemployment.
And I am certainly no expert on the answers to these challenges. But I feel I have glimpsed a way forward. And that is to stand beside our brothers and sisters, go deeper into their lives, listen to their stories, both their pain and the joy, embrace their culture, the most ancient in the world, and somehow together find a way to hold on to both as we forge fulfilling lives for their children and grandchildren.
We participated in the Mowanjum festival, which is run every July while we were there. A day of celebration of their culture, of the Wadjina, a spirit presence who created life, land and sea, and in the evening saw stories of the dreamtime performed by both adults and children. We glimpsed a world as it could be. It will be a long journey but it can only be travelled together.
So going deeper is part of the answer!
I feel as though this has become my motto of late. We can spend a lot of years skimming the surface of our lives, letting relationships and events touch us but bounce off. We greet people at a superficial level and then move on in this crazy busy world we live in. Even within my faith journey it has been in words that I have expressed my sense of God, words and actions. And these can sometime separate us from the “ground of all being” as Paul Tillich would say. The sense that we all belong to something greater and more universal.
While I fully believe the spirt is found in all people and all places, at all times, often we miss seeing it, registering it’s presence. God’s spirt is working in the world, whatever name is given to it, and in our darkest night can be found in our deepest selves. We are to awaken to the divine in each of us, the presence of the spirt in the land that is red, or brown, hot or icy cold, in the love and compassion shown to one another and in the listening and the sharing of stories which bind us together.
So going deeper in faith means going deeper in relationship with the divine presence or spirit that is in all of us. Touching that presence in whatever way we can, whether in quiet moments or sacred places, or festivals and letting that presence be a basis of all that we are and all that we do. Not just believing but trusting, trusting that all of life reveals God’s spirit..
In this way aboriginal spirituality has much to teach us. And maybe that’s a good starting point!