Faith in action
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Sometimes in our lives there comes a moment when you feel you are part of something. Something that has ramifications outside your home, family, community. Something that becomes one of those moments where years later you say “this is where I was when this happened”.
In my lifetime it has been Princess Diana’s death and September 11 2001. Both happened on foreign shores but had impacts around the world. This week, one of these moments is happening on these lands now called Australia. It is happening in a place that geographically is the very centre of Australia, or what could be described as the living heart of these lands now called Australia. A place called Uluru.
I happen to be writing this sitting on the lands of the Barngarla peoples on my way to Uluru. It was only 34 years ago, on 26 October 1985, that Uluru was handed back to the Anangu peoples, the Traditional Custodians. I was five years old when the then Governor-General, Sir Ninian Stephen, ceremonially handed over title for the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park to the Anangu peoples. That was one of those moments. This week, on 26 October 2019, exactly 34 years to the day, Uluru will no longer be able to be climbed #closetheclimb. Officially. The Anangu peoples have for a long time, decades even, asked visitors not to climb this sacred place. It will be one of those moments. So as I sit here writing my mind, heart, and spirit drift to what is sacred, what is holy.
Uluru is a sacred place for the Anangu peoples. I read an article this week that discussed the major question trending on google about Uluru which, was in fact, not about climbing this ancient rock, but about how Uluru was formed, how did Uluru get there. This article allocated just 28 words to the Dreaming story of the Anangu peoples as to how Uluru was created and then went on for 99% of the article to talk about the science behind Uluru’s creation. Over 65,000 years of story allotted 28 words. I was intrigued because for all of my life I had known Uluru to be a mystery to science.
For the Anangu peoples, and for all Aboriginal peoples of over 300 nations, we know that the Creator’s story is embedded in the landscape. The Creator’s story is embedded, not just at Uluru but, in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide, or Warrang, Meanjin, Naarm, Tandanya. Everyday you walk on someone’s country. Everyday you walk on the Creator’s story. It is often just harder to hear or feel when the country is under carpet, concrete, and bitumen. Is all country sacred? Of course – it holds the Creator’s story. When Christians visit Israel how do they think of that land? Sacred and holy are often words that are used. When Christians attend or visit a church, especially a Cathedral, in Australia or overseas – Sacred and Holy are often words that used. How do Christians walk in these places – softly, gently, slowly. They want to feel the story of the place – the story of the Creator, Jesus, Holy Spirit.
Stan Grant in his “The Australian Dream” speech when talking about the racism experienced by Adam Goodes said it happened “in a place that is most holy, most sacred to Australians. It happened in the sporting field, it happened on the football field.” I’ve been to football matches of every code – Rugby League, AFL (Marngrook), Rugby Union, Soccer (the real Football), and I think I’ve only stepped on the actual footy field maybe once – after a Brisbane Lions game – for five minutes – the grass and ground needs to be looked after, respected – it can’t have 50,000 to 80,000 people trampling it. How do we think of Sacred? How do we think of Holy? How do we think of respect? How do we think of care?
As I sit here having left Waka Waka nation, the country of my ancestors, through Gubbi Gubbi country the land upon which I have grown up and lived most of my life, through Gadigal country the place I now live, through Kaurna country which has hosted me for Adelaide Surrender, through Ramindjeri country where the lands and seas gave inspiration to write my book, through to my first stop on my way to Uluru, sitting here watching the sunrise on Barngarla country, I listen, I feel, I see. I breathe.
I imagine an Australia that wants to listen to the telling of the over 65,000 years of story. I imagine an Australia where all peoples, using the example of Traditional Custodians, stewards, cares for, and treats all this unique and ancient creation that has been entrusted to us, with respect – as sacred, as holy. This Friday and Saturday I will be in a place that I consider one of the most sacred, most holy of places. Uluru. The Heart of these lands now called Australia. I will pray for protection, healing, respect. I will pray for an Australia that considers Uluru to be one of the most sacred places, more sacred and holy than a football field. I will celebrate and commemorate for the Anangu peoples. I will promise to walk softly, gently, and slowly on the lands of the Anangu peoples where I will stand at the base of Uluru – not even tempted to climb it. I will stand there in awe and reverence marvelling at Almighty Creator Spirit’s creation of this rock and the Dreaming story the Almighty Creator Spirit gave the Anangu peoples. It will be a moment. It will a moment when years later someone says, “Remember when the climb on Uluru was closed, where were you?” And I’ll say, “Yes, I was at Uluru.” I am sure it is a moment I will never forget. I hope it is a moment that all Australians and people around the world will never forget. My prayer is that it will help to #ChangeTheHeart of Australia and finally help Australia to understand what is actually Sacred. It might just be a moment that helps to build the Australia I dream of, an Australia built on truth, justice, love, and hope.
The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,
which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy,
and like a strong man runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them;
and nothing is hid from its heat.
The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the decrees of the Lord are sure,
making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear,
enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is pure,
the ordinances of the Lord are true
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey,
and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
But who can detect their errors?
Clear me from hidden faults.
Keep back your servant also from the insolent;
do not let them have dominion over me.
Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
Brooke Prentis is an Aboriginal Christian Leader and a descendant of the Wakka Wakka peoples. Brooke is the Aboriginal spokesperson for Common Grace and Coordinator of the Grasstree Gathering.
Bianca Manning calls us to go on a journey of education and learning about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander justice.
Welcome Bianca Manning.
In 2000 Ben Johnson was a youth delegate representing the Salvation Army on a journey of Reconciliation from Canberra to Uluru.
David Cook was part of the organising committee for the Melbourne Walk for Reconciliation in the year 2000. His reflection is part of our Gallery of photos and stories of Christians who participated in Walks for Reconciliation.