Outback – Wilderness Sunday
A 17-9-2017 A & C Joel 1 8-10, 17-20 Ps 18 6-19 Rom 8 18-27 Mt 3 13 – 4 2
Adelaide’s quite bewildering for our Shekayla sometimes. We confront her with a wilderness of rules and regulations about time, money, strange manners and customs, and endless bureaucracy. (Her home languages don’t have words for time or number – let alone our crazy form-filling language for Centrelink, Medicare, bank account applications or permission slips for excursions and work-experience.
We’ve been born and raised in this jungle of expectations and rules. So we’re surprised, watching a movie with Shekayla as she constantly asks questions about what’s happening on screen, trying to decode the conventions by which the characters behave. Humour, satire and assumed knowledge we understand automatically are often surprisingly alien to her.
The shoe was on the other foot when we went to a Papunya with a bunch of young people a few years ago. Shekayla and Tobias wanted to show us a rock-hole where Papunya’s kids like to swim. We drove out towards the nearby ranges, but the track gave out, so we stepped out onto a very stony, slippery landscape. We had sturdy shoes on, which was good; the stones on the ground slipped and moved underfoot, and they were ferociously hot from the sun. But Shekayla and Tobias didn’t bother with shoes. They galloped off ahead of us, absolutely at home in this pathless wilderness, laughing and calling out to each other in a bubbly language the Land had given their people over tens of thousands of years. It was a precious vision.
These children were fully themselves and completely at one with their ancestral lands; kids we love and care for, but whom we really hardly know. Describe the pool and the cave with the rock painting.
The Land and its people in harmony; it’s a vision we’re trying to recover during this Season of Creation. Genesis portrayed both our common origin with all life, Earth as Mother of all living, and our tragic loss of that belonging.
But today St Paul takes the image of the Earth our Mother to a new level in his letter to the Romans. Creation is groaning in labour pains, and we are both there in the birthing centre with her, and at the same time, we are part of the renewed Creation to which she waits to give birth.
Paul reminded us today of the curse which God declared on Earth as a consequence of human ambition. We’ve heard that over the past two weeks in Genesis. Paul names the curse as creation’s bondage to decay. We resonate with the truth of his words as we did with the writer of Genesis; we’re seeing this decay happen right now, and at a catastrophic level.
So we groan with Creation as she endures this abuse. Yet Paul hears these groans as something more than cries of agony. He also hears in them the cries of a Creation in labour. So he injects a wonderful hope into the pain. The story is not going to end in tragedy; God won’t let it be like that. New life will emerge; new life, and the old life reborn to goodness and health. And somehow, that’s connected with our willingness to endure the isolation and fear of a present wilderness; a wilderness of unknowing fear, and fearful hope: Paul says we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
So it was good for us to enter the risky wilderness out beyond Papunya. And it’d probably be better, next time we’re there, if we go out one at a time; alone. That’s a truth we explored during our Lenten series Into the Desert. Being alone with Creation, we discover connections with our deepest selves – and with our Maker. We might even learn to hear the groanings Paul describes: Creation groaning in labour pains, our own groaning as we wait to be born into the fullness of a redeemed, renewed Creation, and the groaning of the Holy Spirit, helping us in our weakness; for [when] we do not know how to pray as we ought…that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.
So much about our settled, city lives cuts us off from those connections. And the support systems we require to keep our ever-more-demanding cities alive are the engine room of the destruction we are wreaking on our world.
When I first left the big cities for Australia’s north someone said ‘that’s great, you can stay for a year and it will look excellent on your CV’. For successful folk can’t spend too long out of the main game.
Anywhere else is to be travelled through briefly to mine for experiences that can be used to benefit us back in the real world. ‘A packaged tour of the absolute’, to steal Annie Dillard’s term.
However if we duck the tour bus mentality and spend long enough in the desert the seemingly unchanging surroundings force a massive change in us. We let go of the illusion that we are somehow more special than others. Surprisingly, one day, we are even glad to be rid of it. For we are free like we have never been before.
Celia Kemp: Into the desert. Day 40
Discipleship is not limited to what you can comprehend – it must transcend all comprehension.
Plunge into the [wilderness] beyond your own comprehension and I will help you to comprehend even as I do.
Bewilderment is the true comprehension. Not to know where you are going is the true knowledge.
My comprehension transcends yours.
Thus Abraham went forth from his father and not knowing whither he went. He trusted himself to my knowledge and cared not for his own, and thus he took the right road and came to his journey’s end. Behold, that is the way of the cross.
You cannot find it yourself, so you must let me lead you as though you were a blind person. Wherefore it is not you, no person, no living creature, but I myself, who instruct you by my word and Spirit in the way you should go.
Martin Luther: Into the desert. Day 21
Collect prayer for Wilderness / Outback Sunday
We hear voices crying out in the wilderness, O God.
The earth cries out for healing.
The creatures cry out for the restoration of their habitat.
The trees and the fields cry out for water.
The land cries out for nourishment,
the oceans cry out for balance,
and we cry out for wisdom, O God.
Meet us in the wilderness that we may walk alongside you
on the winding path toward your renewed creation. Amen.