Slow reading: The prophet Amos and 26 January

Today is 26 January. It’s a day of formal ceremonies and concerts; festivities and fireworks; citizenship oaths and wattle seedlings; parades and parties; lamb on the barbie—and even WA is invited! Workplaces will be closed, pubs will be full, and our favourite swimming hole will be a sea of flags printed on towels, bikinis and stubbie holders, as people celebrate the construct we call Australia.

And yet, the date commemorates the planting of a flag, the formalisation of invasion, the unleashing of genocide. And for all the years and incremental gains since, there has never been a treaty, the land has never been ceded, and First Peoples continue to suffer terrible injustice. Countless Aboriginal workers, children and wages were stolen: Where is justice? Aboriginal people are the most incarcerated people on the planet: Where is justice? Aboriginal people are disproportionately arrested, beaten up and killed in custody: Where is justice? There are terrible discrepancies in education, employment, wealth, health, even life expectancy: Where is justice? Language and culture has been ravaged: Where is justice?

Speaking through the prophet Amos, God has much to say about those who engage in solemn assemblies and live a life of ease while their neighbours are suffering. Today, I invite you to spend some time with this trenchant word. Notice what upsets you; notice what defences you put up against the word; and notice, too, any gentle whisper which points towards hope, healing and restoration.

1. PREPARE: Make yourself comfortable. Uncross your legs; relax your body; uncomplicate your heart. Ask God to help you surrender to whatever it is that God wants to do in you or say to you today. Breathe slowly and deeply in, then out.

2. READ: Read the following passage aloud at least three times through, slowly. Listen carefully. Notice anything which captures your attention.

I hate, I despite your festivals;
I can’t stand your po-faced assemblies.
I reject all your religious grandstanding;
I turn my face from your shows of piety.
I’ve had it with your noisy anthems;
I won’t listen to the sounds of your music.
But let justice roll down like a river,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream …

Woe to those who are comfortable,
to those who feel secure,
the leaders and public figures of the ruling classes …
Woe to those who lie around in luxury,
and expect others to wait on them, hand and foot.
Woe to those who gorge themselves on lamb
when others are malnourished and hungry.
Woe to those who hum along to the latest songs,
indifferent to the pain of their neighbour.
Woe to those who drink to oblivion
and obsess over cosmetics and hair,
but don’t give a rats’ arse for the suffering of others—
not even their own kin!
They’ll be the first to know the pain of exile;
their relentless ‘she’ll be right, mate’ will soon pass away.
(Amos 5:21-24; 6:1, 4-7, paraphrase)

3. REFLECT: What do you notice? What emotions do you feel? What questions are bubbling up? What are you reminded of?

4. RELATE: How does the Scripture illuminate or change how you understand 26 January? How does 26 January illuminate or change how you understand Scripture? How do your observations illuminate or change how you understand yourself or God? What might it look like to see God’s justice rolling like a river for all people? What blocks the free-flowing of righteousness in you, in our society, in the church?

5. RESPOND: Has any other passage, story, phrase or image from Scripture bubbled up in you? Do you have any sense of an invitation, comfort or challenge? Pray about this, and tell God about anything which is emerging. If you feel called to action, ask God to show you the next step.

6. REST: When you feel ‘done’, rest awhile. Savour the Word and God’s loving presence. Close with a gesture of thanks to God: perhaps a simple bow. As you prepare to leave this space, if any word, phrase or image persists, let it guide you. Or if nothing in particular arises, remember this:

  • Let righteousness flow …

If you found today’s reading difficult, you are not alone; most of us avoid direct prophetic challenges most of the time. But as much as we need God’s love, we don’t need cossetting. God trusts us with the truth of our society and our lives, and expects us to be able to grapple with it even when it’s painful. I hope that any discomfort becomes a prompt, or reveals something about yourself that God wants you to know: for this is all part of our growing up in love.


PS: If you are looking for further ways to engage with 26 January, Aboriginal Christian leaders have put together a list of ten things you can do here

Emailed to Sanctuary 26 January 2022 © Sanctuary, 2022. Photo by Mitchell Luo on Unsplash.

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