Isaiah’s vision of a new creation promises peace and plenty for everyone: Indigenous, colonial settler, migrant — and koalas. (Listen.)
This reflection was prepared for a local people in a local area. However, its themes are pertinent to every locality in Australia, particularly, this week, those regions on fire because of colonial land clearing and extractive industries which release carbon, heat up the atmosphere and trigger catastrophic fires; and those regions affected by police racism and violence, including Yuendemu, where people are mourning the death of Kumanjayi Walker and protesting continued injustice.
Twenty years ago, Cudgee was a depleted paddock. Now, it’s an oasis. Families have built sustainable homes and are raising their children there. People have planted countless Indigenous trees, grasses, and shrubs. The creek is overhung by eucalypts; blocks are lined with wildlife corridors; koalas grunt and roam. There are organic gardens and orchards; happy chooks; contented ducks; an Indigenous plant nursery; and the best garlic in Victoria.
I look at Cudgee and all the other localities represented in this church; I look at the people who are making these localities into neighbourhoods of restoration, beauty and hope; and I see the vision from Isaiah 65. You are building houses and inhabiting them; you are planting orchards and eating their fruit; you are enjoying the work of your hands; your children are born into safety and prosperity. And sitting in your beautiful homes, and walking in your beautiful gardens, and eating that beautiful garlic, I think, “Here are the children blessed by God” (v. 23): for the vision of shalom is alive and well among you. Long may this vision flourish. Rejoice and be glad in what God is creating and continues to create among you, and through the work of your hands.
Yet I say this acknowledging a tension.
Isaiah’s vision was directed to the first wave of exiles returning to the promised land. Many years earlier, Judah had been invaded by the Assyrians. The elite had been carted off; houses and buildings laid to waste; and the fruits of the earth seized by the invading empire. Nearly two hundred years later, the tide turned. Assyria fell, Persia dominated, and King Darius of Persia commissioned the people to go home and rebuild. So Isaiah’s vision of peace and prosperity was directed to a people who had known war and invasion, who had been living in exile, and who were now returning to a shattered homeland.
It sounds a lot like our region’s recent history: but not for us whitefellas. We’re more like the Assyrians. Because two hundred odd years ago, the Eastern Maar nation fell to the British Empire. Settler colonials seized the land. Guns, violence, exposure and tuberculosis quickly killed countless First Peoples. Indigenous homes were destroyed; possum cloaks stolen and replaced with infected blankets; hard little hooves dug up the main source of food, the murrnong or yam daisy, and compacted the soil forever. Successive governments internally displaced those who survived the invasion, and stole children, banned language, and compelled assimilation.
As most of the people gathered here recognise, it is because of this recent history that we ourselves have land, and prosperity, and hope for our children; and so we need to be thoughtful in how we claim Isaiah’s vision of shalom. We can claim this vision without acknowledging our history or the cost to First Peoples; or we can be so paralysed by guilt that we neither claim the vision with confidence, nor do anything about historic injustice.
But Isaiah describes a world in which the feral cat and the bandicoot shall feed together, and, just as the kangaroo eats flax lily, so too the fox. Neither stubborn denial nor crippling guilt will bring about the fullness of Isaiah’s vision of healing and wholeness for everyone: for people in Cudgee, for people in Framlingham, for people in Alice Springs, for people in Yuendemu.
So we must find other ways of living and being in this land: ways beyond denial, ways beyond guilt.
As a congregation of mostly white Australians, then, how do we unearth the stories, acknowledge our history, sit with our guilt, and let it galvanize us towards responsibility and healing?
How do we work towards a vision where all peoples can plant, build and work towards restoration; where nobody’s labour shall be in vain; and where nobody’s children shall be born for calamity, trauma, removal, or assimilation?
And how can we continue to work with the Holy Spirit so that this becomes a holy place, where not just white Australians but people of all nations — Gunditjmara, settler colonial, recent migrant — live and work side by side towards Isaiah’s vision of human flourishing?
The Shalom group is beginning to ask these and similar questions: and you are invited to join us. We don’t know the way forward, only that it begins with humility and listening and learning. The poet Mickey ScottBey Jones writes, “We have the right to start somewhere and continue to grow // We have the responsibility to examine what we think we know …”; and it is in this spirit that we will work.
And we will persist in hope, trusting that God is continuing to create a new thing:
A region created as a joy, and its people as a delight …
where the feral cat and the bandicoot shall feed together;
the fox shall eat flax lily like the kangaroo
and colonial capitalist greed
will no longer gnaw at the human heart:
that serpent’s food shall be dust!
For they shall not hurt or destroy on God’s holy mountain
— not Budj Bim, not Koroytj, not Moyjil.
So as we explore our past and critique our present and look to our future, let us travel deeply into the questions, and let us keep our eyes on Isaiah’s vision of shalom. Let us allow them to change us; and let us keep working and praying for that joyful day when the vision of shalom encompasses everyone. Amen. Ω
A reflection on Isaiah 65:17-25 given to Sanctuary, 17 November 2019 © Alison Sampson, 2019. Photo by David Clode on Unsplash – but yes, koalas are seen and heard in Cudgee regularly … including the one below, spotted last week. Invitation to Brave Space by Mickey ScottBey Jones, found here.
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