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For Brooke Prentis the unexpected beauty of the Grasstree symbolises the versatility, strength, and longevity of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christian leaders.

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Brooke Prentis is the Aboriginal spokesperson for Common Grace. She is a descendant of the Waka Waka people, an activist for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights, a Christian pastor, and an accountant.

Today's reading is Isaiah 61:3-4

I love trees. I probably have more photos of trees than people (and I have a lot of photos!). Some of my favourites are the snow encrusted trees in Washington DC, the tree Aloe in Kirstenbosch, South Africa, or the trees filled with Cherry Blossoms in Japan. Whilst these trees from around the world have been spectacular, nothing beats our trees here in Australia. Give me a Gum Tree, a Sheoak, or Moreton Bay Fig any day. Oh, and I cannot leave out my countryman the Bunya Pine, native to Waka Waka country (and Gubbi Gubbi country), and home of the ancient Bunya Nut Festival.

But there is one tree that will always be my true love. The Grasstree. There are over 30 species of Grasstree in Australia – I’ve seen many of them! If you are driving with me around Australia you will suddenly hear me call, “Grasstree”, when I spot one.  

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Grasstrees on Waka Waka country. Photo by Brooke Prentis.

If you look at any of the drawings from colonisation you will usually see a Grasstree, such was once their dominance of the landscape.

As an Aboriginal person I always knew the Grasstree was special, but I didn’t fully come to know why until our first Grasstree Gathering in 2012. The Grasstree Gathering was the vision of Aunty Jean Phillips to bring together the next generation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christian leaders from all denominations and from all over Australia – a gathering not seen on this scale for some 30 years. The Grasstree Gathering has played an important role in creating a network of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christian Leaders who meet every few years, and our next year gathering is in Sydney from March 16-20 next year.

So why had the Grasstree been chosen to describe this network? Herein lies the unexpected beauty of the Grasstree and the unexpected beauty of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christian leadership. Uncle Joe Kirk has taught us that the Grasstree has many uses – the “grass” can be used for bedding, the white tips of the “grass” when pulled from the trunk can be boiled and becomes like a natural spaghetti, the flowers provide a sweet cordial, the seeds can be ground to make a flour, the spike is used for making houses or spears, and the resin is used as a glue. The Grasstree can be resistant to fire, is slow growing, and long lasting (some are over 450 years old!). The unexpected beauty of the Grasstree comes from its versatility, its strength, and its longevity. The same could be said about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christian Leaders, or our “Trees of Justice” from today’s reading. The same could be said about Jesus, as we await his coming during this Advent season.

My hope and my prayer is that many of you, non-Aboriginal Christian brothers and sisters, will get to know my fellow “Trees of Justice”, and together we can create an Australia, in our lifetime, that is built on truth, justice, love and hope – an Australia that “has been in ruins for many generations”.

I love trees. Trees have played an important role in my life – markers of place and time. Trees have also played an important role in the life of Jesus. Jesus birth was marked on trees in the shape of a manger. Jesus death was marked on trees in the shape of a cross. The unexpected beauty of Jesus in these moments with trees marking place and time. May we recognise the unexpected beauty of our humanity within all of God’s wondrous creation – the trees, rivers, mountains, oceans, plants, birds, animals – as we walk this earth together, in friendship, as “Trees of Justice”.

Daily Reading Isaiah 61:3-4

The Lord has sent me
to comfort those who mourn,
    especially in Jerusalem.
He sent me to give them flowers
    in place of their sorrow,
olive oil in place of tears,
and joyous praise
    in place of broken hearts.
They will be called
    “Trees of Justice,”
planted by the Lord
    to honor his name.
Then they will rebuild cities
that have been in ruins
    for many generations.

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Join us this December as Common Grace gathers 25 diverse Christians voices together to explore and share in 'Unexpected Beauty' as we journey through Advent.

Unexpected Beauty: An Advent series from Common Grace