In 1612, the English playwright John Webster wrote, “A parliament is like a common fountain, whence should flow pure silver drops in general. But if some cursed example poison it near the head, death and disease through the whole land spread.” (The Duchess of Malfi, Act 1, Scene 1, paraphrase). These lines draw, of course, from an image found in Revelation 22.
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. (Revelation 22:1-3a).
This week, as we see a change of government and learn the precise composition of our new Parliament, such images spring to mind. For the last nine years, we have had, I suggest, a poison fountain. That is, we have had a federal Parliament dominated by wealthy entitled straight white men who were formed by exclusive boys’ schools. These men have been alternately oblivious to and contemptuous of those who are not like themselves, and they have frequently used their power to erect barriers to access while furthering their own interests and that of their buddies.
And so we have seen women, Indigenous folk, LGBTIQA+ folk, poor folk, people on NDIS, people seeking asylum, and the non-human creation being battered and harmed by the poisonous words and policies issuing from the federal fountain. ‘Death and disease through the whole land spread’ as climate disaster raised its head, through aged care facilities a pandemic sped, contempt for women by their culture was bred, and depression and despair by their policies were fed.
But this week ushers in a new era. And while I don’t really expect any human Parliament to be overflowing with ‘pure silver drops in general’, nevertheless I have cautious hope. For our new Prime Minister was raised by a single mum on disability living in public housing; the new cabinet already includes a fiercely intelligent gay Asian woman; and the new Parliament has a large dynamic female-dominated crossbench demanding action on women, integrity and climate.
And already, we have a commitment to creating an Indigenous Voice to Parliament; already, we have a commitment to increase access in our society (or, to use the language of Revelation, to open the gates of the city (21:25)).
So, while our new Parliament is still dominated by wealthy white people, nevertheless there are hints that the ‘silver drops’ may be a little more pure, and flow a little more generally and generously, than before. And perhaps those of us who vote, volunteer on campaigns, or even run for office might wonder: What needs to happen for the ‘common fountain’ to refresh the whole land, both people and country? What fruits are we looking for? What steps can we take for the healing of the nations, both our own and other peoples?
Emailed to Sanctuary 25 May 2022 © Sanctuary, 2022.
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