Birth Stories and Birth Spaces

This Good Friday, Laura Tharion challenges us to embrace and protect all sacred spaces and places.

Our spaces matter, our stories matter.

This truth ignited globally this Holy Week as we watched fire consume a French cathedral. France can appear to pursue a militant secularism, banning all face-veils in public places and forbidding religious symbols from being worn within state schools. Yet as Notre Dame burned at Paris’ heart her citizens wept. The 800 year old oak ceiling beams cut from ancient forests long lost to history dissolved to ash. Some beams measured 110m. Trees of this magnitude no longer exist in France. The world wept too at the violation of this sacred space, a womb which again and again held history and birthed future. We are left with an empty cross amongst the ashes, grasping a promise of resurrection to come. “Notre-Dame is our history, our literature, part of our psyche, the place of all our great events, our epidemics, our wars, our liberations, the epicentre of our lives,” spoke President Emmanuel Macron as he promised to rebuild.

Notre Dame burning in France. Source: The Guardian

Our spaces matter because our stories matter. Our stories matter because we matter. The shared and ancient place of Notre Dame, alive with fossils of France’s becoming and belonging, revealed itself as deeply holy even to the doggedly unspiritual.

Australia is currently posed to destroy over 260 Notre Dames, 260 trees, to build a highway. Also 800 years old, these ancients are sacred to the Djap Wurrung people, including a birthing tree which has seen more than 10,000 babies born within its hollow trunk. Our shared stories, our shared spaces, affirm our humanity. They are all birthplaces. Upholding our neighbour’s humanity means protecting their sacred spaces. But if these trees fall, will the Djab Wurrung’s humanity be destroyed or that of those who wield the axe? In the Statement from the Heart, First Nations peoples invite all Australians to walk together, to embrace their over 65,000 years of history as part of a new page in our becoming and belonging, to resurrect from colonial ruins a better future.

Will Australia retreat down a highway of desecration or choose rebirth as our narrative? Are there broken parts of our nationhood that may need burning down to end injustice and regrow us whole? The 2019 National Reconciliation Week theme of “Grounded in Truth – Walk together in courage” and the 2019 NAIDOC Week theme of “Voice. Treaty. Truth. Let’s work together for a shared future” put this firmly on this year’s agenda.

Will we continue to walk together to #changetheheart of Australia?

A river red gum tree. Elders have asked that images of the actual sacred trees not be used online, so we have found online pictures of trees of similar majesty to the birthing tree under threat. Source: Victoria's Giant Trees

Holy Week is a sacred space. It is a stage set for a story of shared blood and shared birth, when the holy invaded our ruined world and rebirthed us whole. It is a stage for Jesus, God come to live with us. For it has always been God’s desire for God’s place and our place to overlap with God the epicentre of our becoming and belonging. God lived in womb, God wore flesh, and God visited a house where the roof was purposely collapsed to deliver broken humanity into God’s healing hands. God was carried into a tomb. God walked out again. This story, this gift of rebirth, it opens a place of recreation to all. God is here rebuilding creation justice shaped. God offers us a hand. “Follow me,” God says.

*As I wrote this, the ABC released a statement saying that the Federal Court has over turned the decision by the Federal Environment Minister not to grant protection to trees threatened by the Western Highway duplication near Ararat. A fresh decision will be made. Protesters have been on the ground with the Djab Wurrung Heritage Protection Embassy for almost a year to halt work on the highway and protect the trees. Please pray this new decision will preserve this sacred country.
Zellanach Djab Mara from the Djab Wurrung Heritage Protection Embassy describes the place’s significance, “And it will destroy not just one particular tree, but many directions trees. After a birth, the father would have the placenta and the mother would have the seed from the bush tucker. They would go and plant a tree, which is called a directions tree. That tree would then represent that baby. And that baby would grow in conjunction with that tree. So, that’s there for that child to go back to and reflect on their life.” “These trees have absorbed the blood of labouring women…” writes Neela Janakiramanan for Women’s Agenda, “History is an integral part of our humanity. It connects us to the past, to those who brought us here and to this point in time, and it grounds us in our place. Stories, songs, and places must be protected if we are to keep our humanity.”
Elders have asked that images of the sacred trees not be used online.

Add your name to the petition here

Full interview with Zellanach Djab Mara.

Donate to the Djab Wurrung Embassy.

Read the Statement from the Heart.

Neela Janakiramanan’s full article.

Laura Tharion is a Jesus lover, writer, preacher, pastoral worker, haphazard homemaker, mother of three boys, and cultivator of the new creation. Jesus, tea, cake, stories, friends, family, wandering in bushland, and seeing justice blossom makes her heart happy.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Justice