Picture taken from the roof of our house – water bomber overhead – fire approaching
An exhausted evacuee as we set up the evac beds in the Church
Traditionally, by Christmas Eve the Christmas beetles are filling the vestry. They meet us at the door where the lights are on, sometimes even flying around the church as we worship. This year there were none. But as we always do, we told the story of Wombat Divine to the children on Christmas Day. With hand puppets of native animals, emu, kangaroo, bilby and more we share Wombats longing to be part of the nativity play; his disappointment at missing so many parts and his final triumph when he lands the role of the baby Jesus.
This year the beetles were missing, as were the shearwaters on the beach. And we’ve not seen nor heard any black swans for many weeks. Usually their morning and evening flight overhead and their distinctive honk is a reminder of the rhythm of days and of our meditation practice. I hope the beetles knew ahead not to come this year. I hope the swans heeded some invisible call to leave early.
When the phone rang at 6am on New Years Eve morning, with the sound of an alarm and a voice telling us to leave now as our lives were at risk, I was glad that we had prepared to leave. We knew what we would do. The car was packed and facing in the right direction. I just needed to put the cat in, and we were off. Anthony, my husband, had decided to stay and defend the house. I went into town (Moruya) and opened the church and parish hall for others who began to arrive that morning shaken and anxious. A young family, partners of those out fighting the fires, some parishioners and others including various animals found their way in during the morning. We parted the pews to make sleeping cubicles, one family camped in the vestry, others in the hall and office. Now we waited, glued to the Fires Near Me app that showed the frightening extent of the growth and size of fires as they began to join up. Later we lost power and communications. As I looked in the direction of Mossy Point, our home, I was horrified to see those now familiar massive fire clouds glowing red. Contact with Anthony had gone. We could only wait and pray. We were fortunate that day. Although the sand dunes nearby caught fire the southerly came literally in the nick of time. Many others lost their homes.
Over a period of 10 days we had 3 evacuation orders. By the third I had decided to stay. And in the end the conditions were milder than expected. Over that same period, we were mostly without power and reliable communications, including our usual lifeline the local ABC radio, roads were cut, food and fuel were at times in short supply. For many weeks we have breathed in the smoke of so many fires raging around us. At times thick, acrid and cloying the smoke now permeates everything. Day after day and night the sun and moon both glow red behind a veil of smoke. We live with apocalyptic images. It’s frightening to think that we might become used to this as the new normal.
Australia has lost 28 human lives, an estimated one billion native animals and at least 2,000 human houses since the fires started burning in September. 9 million hectares, an area the size of Ireland, are burnt. Much of the eastern seaboard and ranges are a massive scar in the landscape. In places the fire has burnt the very soil. A 4th generation farmer who lost her home near here told me that the bare dirt was burning. “There’s no coming back from this’ she said. Sorrow, grief can come only in small doses. Too much is overwhelming. The deep howl within us comes out only very occasionally and quietly. Most of the time we simply get on with what needs to be done. But I have a sense of desolation in the very air around us; the awareness of incalculable loss.
During one of the worst days, when we were refugees in our own church, I wrote up a list of activities for the day in order to keep us occupied. The kids loved the pom-pom making. And I invited people to meditate at various times during the day. I cleared a space in the parish office and a few of us gathered there. Amid fear and anxiety, swirling orange smoke, and the constant sound of planes filling up with water from the river, we joined in wordless prayer. As we finished one session, and remained sitting in silence, I knew God in the stillness at the heart of it all. Our little evacuation centre became a place of grounded care. And I’m sure that the prayer that the church has held for over 120 years and the living faith of those of us holding that space in those few days enabled a sense of safety and calm for those who came.
Nevertheless, some of the images of the ‘fire fields’ in Australia have been described as apocalyptic. Presently there are massive dust storms in western NSW that have been described in the same way. Even non- religious types have been using such language. The real meaning of apocalypse is the revealing of that which is hidden. What do we need to see at times such as this? Clearly, one of the realities that we need to wake up to very quickly is that humanity cannot go on living as we are in relation to other-than-human life. In Australia, in places, the infernos have incinerated all life. Native worms, spiders and other humble ground-dwellers that ‘till’ the soil have been destroyed. There is a real chance of local eco-systems collapse. Fish are dying en masse due to asphyxiation as ash from the fires extinguishes oxygen in the last remaining puddles that were once rivers. Many of us now have entered that feeling state known as Solastalgia* as we live in a parched and burnt environment. Solastalgia is the sense of homesickness we know not because we have left home but because our home has changed so much. Sadness, grief and yes, rage, are commonly encountered. Our politicians seem utterly incapable of grasping the fact of their own failure in responding to the reality of climate crisis. Our political landscape is as desiccated and degraded as our once beautiful natural landscape. We lament the loss and grieve for what we love.
On Sunday, our Bishop, speaking at our church, referred to Walter Bruegemann’s categorising of the Psalms into three groups: psalms of orientation, disorientation and re-orientation. The disorientation of the last weeks has been significant. The movement now must be towards re-orientation. However, if we imagine that re-orienting means to go back to things as they were then we have got it very wrong. If we fail to see what this ‘apocalypse’ is revealing, then our destruction is assured. Our re-orientation must be towards Life rather than death. We must rapidly learn to live in a mutually enhancing way with the rest of the earth community. We have taken up too much too much space, we are committing eco-cide and potentially omnicide. We cannot ‘jolly’ ourselves up with the ‘hope’ that things will go back to normal. The climate crisis, and this bushfire crisis present us with a choice.
As I sit here, having returned to where I left off writing, there are many birds feeding in our garden and drinking from the bird baths. We have spread seed, fruit and small bits of meat for the maggies and kookaburras. Decimated habitat has brought creatures closer. Here in Mossy we are one of many small oases. And rain is falling. We have heard about how wombats, during the fires, shared their burrows with snakes and quolls; some say they even shepherded other animals to the safety of their burrows. Its raining now. But we must not forget the fires of 2019/20. We must remember. And we must let this remembering be the spur to act on what they have revealed to us. Lest we forget.
On Jan 23, the fire took off again and licked the edges of Moruya, destroying many more homes. Our Shire is now into Day 63 of these fires and the fire fields cover most of our once beautiful landscape.
2016 Christian Meditatio Paper: Keepers of the Space
The following paper was written by Rev Linda Chapman, an Oblate of the Christian Meditation Community and Rector of the Anglican Parish of Moruya. See the following link for details of the Meditatio Event in Sydney in 2016.
THE HUMAN VOCATION AS KEEPERS OF THE SPACE means that we are meant to live as part of the whole earth community in a way that secures spaces for both human and other-than-human life to flourish. The Creation story of Genesis is a story of God opening up these spaces for life. All creatures are given habitat. The human being is born into this Garden of life but we are now encroaching on the space of others and are causing serious harm. The practice of meditation however is a way of hope. It is a spiritual practice that opens up the space of cosmic consciousness such that we might recognize our identity as creatures interdependent with all creation and in need of balance.
Meditation enables a way of life that restores harmony and balance; the balance necessary for life, for all to live. Much of our contemporary culture and consciousness is about growing the ‘space’ of the economy. The Genesis narrative however tells us that the oikos, the household of God, from which the word economy is derived, is about the balancing of ecology and economy. When our focus is heavily weighted on economy we become split and unbalanced. We veer in the direction of harm, rather than securing space for life to flourish.
In Genesis, humanity is given the task of 'cultivating', tilling, keeping, the garden of Eden. The Creation story is a primal poetic narrative of meaning rather than fact. It is the meaning that matters for us at this stage of our evolutionary journey.
The understanding that the human vocation is to ‘keep the space’ derives from the earliest activity of the Creator in the Genesis story, who opened up the various spaces for particular creatures to enjoy their particular habitats. God opened up the spaces of night and day, of the waters that would teem with living things; the sky with every winged bird according to its kind, and the dry ground; the space where vegetation could come forth. And God saw that all was good and desired an abundance of the various life forms within their spaces. And then the human being, the Adam, was formed from the same elements as the earth, the Adamah. And God saw that it was all very good and on the seventh day rested. Our vocation according to the creation story is to be keepers of the spaces and the whole space of the earth community. And the direction of creation is to come to the wholeness of God’s indwelling, to be a resting place, to rest with God. This is peace. This is shalom.
This peace however is significantly challenged in our current environment by the ecological crises we are now facing. As others have said the ecological crisis is a spiritual crisis; a crisis of human identity. We have forgotten who we are. And when we forget who we are we forget how to live. Yet in this age it may be that we are waking up to that consciousness that re-members creation. We are realizing our co-creative vocation perhaps just in time. Our original gifting with the responsibility to be keepers of the space sees the need for us to collaborate with the whole earth community through the vivifying activity of the (w)Holy Spirit.
“The human task” says Rowan Williams, is “to draw out potential treasures in the powers of nature and so to realise the convergent process of humanity and nature discovering in collaboration what they can become. The 'redemption' of people and material life in general is not a matter of resigning from the business of labour and of transformation – as if we could – but the search for a form of action that will preserve and nourish an interconnected development of humanity and its environment. In some contexts, this will be the deliberate protection of the environment from harm: in a world where exploitative and aggressive behaviour is commonplace, one of the 'providential' tasks of human beings must be to limit damage and to secure space for the natural order to exist unharmed. “
Meditation is a form of action in and of itself and provides the basis for action which is contemplative. Meditation, as contemplative practice, reminds us of who we are and how to live in a way that may preserve the interconnected community of creation. It heals our aggression and exploitative tendencies. The contemplative practice of meditation is an action of deep listening and it bears the fruit of real humility.
The convergent process of human and other-than-human nature, discovering in collaboration what we can become, requires of us deep listening and true humility. The truth of humility is that we are humus; we are earthlings, grounded and embodied beings whose habitat is within the sheltering space of the earth. We do not live on the earth but rather we are part of earth. Humility is the knowledge and experience of who we are and where we fit in the order, or relatedness, of things. The depth of our listening will be according to the extent of our relationship with the other with whom we exist in community. The Australian Aboriginal woman Miriam Rose Ungemerr from the Daly River in the Northern Territory describes such relational listening as Dadirri which she says is like our understanding of contemplation. Dadirri is ‘inner, deep listening and quiet, still awareness. When I experience dadirri, I am made whole again.’
The original people of Australia know, or knew, their identity as intimately connected with the other–than-human environment. Djambawa Marawili, a Yolgnu man of Arnhem land, says that he sees himself as the ‘tongue of the land.’ The land has everything it needs but it cannot speak’ he says. ‘We exist to paint and sing and dance and express its true identity.’
“When I am in my homeland”, says Marawili “I know that my spiritual reality is here. I can see what is happening in our tribal country, in our land. We have significant ngarra (governance). Living in our country we can see what is happening in the future in a spiritual way.” Here are people who realize in the most profound and authentic sense their vocation as keepers of the space. This culture of his, the oldest living culture on earth, recognises the relationship between the space of country and the spiritual reality of the human being – indeed their very reason for existing, their human vocation. These people know who they are in relation to the ‘country’ (place) they belong to.
The practice of meditation is a path of self knowledge. Through it we understand ourselves as spiritual beings in need of more than material wealth to live fully. As spiritual beings we need space to simply be. In Christian meditation we begin by saying the mantra and eventually we listen to it. Our practice becomes one of listening in the space that the mantra keeps us in. We keep the space of consciousness through our practice and it keeps us, grounded in reality and rooted in the Love that keeps all space. Over time we re-member who we are as our fragmented self becomes integrated in the Self who holds us in being.
The ‘household of God’, the created reality, is one space consisting of a diversity of life. The contemporary over-emphasis on the economy, measured in material wealth, denies the space of the various ecologies that make up the whole earth system. Meditation can be a bridge between economy and ecology. Through the regular practice of meditation our consciousness becomes healed of the split. We come to realize that economy and ecology must exist together in harmony derived as they are from the one Source.
Meditation reminds us that our prosperity is to be found in the spiritual capital of knowing who we really are and how we might live in balance for the whole earth community. As we become more conscious so we live out our human vocation as keepers of the space; the space of creation that also keeps us. Ultimately we become that space in which God finds rest as we, more and more, rest in God who sees all creation as ‘very good’.
Sermons & Reflections from the Rector and others
THE BALANCE POINT
The Assistant Priest, Rev'd Rebecca Newland, has a weekly blog where she reflects on spiritual disciplines including the practise of silence and contemplative living. She also occasionally writes about social, environmental and political issues. For those who are interested please click on this link below: