Psalms | The dunes tell the glory of God

The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season; you open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing. (Psalm 145:15-16)

When I drop my daughter at the stables, I look across the wetlands to the dunes. Between the weathered, flattened dunes are two perky dunes side by side. For all the world, they look like a young woman’s breasts. I prayer-dream a woman lying across the landscape. Her hair streams like kelp into the sea; her breasts rise among the dunes; her womb encompasses the fertility of the wetlands.

I remember Biblical passages where God is compared to a womb, a mother, and the giver of all good things in due season. I think of how the wetlands provide an abundance of food in each season: fish, frog, bird, snake, shrimp, reed. I remember that this land – earth, sea and sky – has been feeding people with generous hand for tens of thousands of years. I remember that I am formed from the earth, and I live only because of the earth’s continual nourishment. I am brain, muscle, sinew, fat fed by egg, berry, salt, kelp: I am formed and fed by the land. We are all connected, and I praise God, source of all life, mother and nourisher of us all.

Where is a place that has connected with your faith? Where is a place which resonates with a biblical passage or which reminds you of the nature of God?

For our Lenten reflections in 2023, we’d like to encourage people to write a prayer, a poem, a story, a song; or engage in a prayerful biblical paraphrase; or draw, paint, sculpt, film or somehow record and share a reflection on this special place.

Why? We are embodied beings, living in particular places; but the impulses of our culture push us to the general, the corporate, and the global. Yet Scripture is a deeply place-based text, and pushes hard against the homogenizing forces of empire. Where empire claims all significant events happen in and are driven by Rome and that peace means accepting the language, lore and governance of empire, scripture insists that God is deeply present in small villages, domestic spaces and seasons, weather and wilderness; and that peace is found in tending the land, spending time in wild spaces, and developing loving, just relationships between diverse peoples.

For colonial peoples living on stolen land which is constantly pillaged, drained, bulldozed or rendered invisible, paying attention to the particularity of place is a deep act of honouring both the place and its people; and so it is a deep act of faithfulness to our God.

This summer, then, I encourage you to pay attention to place. What makes it special? Who (people, animal, flora, rocks) lives here? Where do you sense God’s presence, or the ache of absence? Where have you had something important revealed to you about God? You can start thinking, writing, drawing now.

But if you’re struggling, don’t worry! Over summer we’ll email out place-based reflections from our archives to stimulate your creative juices. Then on Sunday 5 February, we’ll have an in-person service where we’ll bless our school students, then use the rest of the time to brainstorm and draft our pieces (or more pieces!).

As always, we hope to put together a set of 40 readings for a Lent booklet; if we get paintings, songs, TikToks or other media, we’ll add hyperlinks to our website. And if we get more than 40, that’s not a problem! We’ll definitely incorporate them all.

If some of those pieces are prayers or images we can use in services, so much the better. I’m gradually developing a bank of place-evocative resources to use in worship, and to help us notice and seek the shalom of the particular place in which we live. (For a simple guide to writing a prayer, go here.)

I hope that these pieces will not just open our eyes to God’s presence, but will enliven our experience of the land. Perhaps next time you do the Warrnambool-Port Fairy ride, you’ll pause at the top of the bike path at Mahogany Farm and notice those little twin dunes. You’ll smile, perhaps, at the vision of a woman lying in the landscape; but perhaps you’ll also remember God’s maternal presence and generous hand. Maybe you’ll also wonder, with me, how this generosity might be nurtured, protected and shared. In the same way, I hope your reflection will enrich my experience of the land, stimulating me to notice a feature of the landscape even as it reminds me of what you highlighted about the nature of God.

A reminder that Sanctuary will close on Christmas Day, and reopen on Aboriginal Sunday (22 January). We will meet in the hall to worship using prayers written by Aboriginal Christian leaders, reflect on a text which reveals something surprising about treaty, and create a mural as we respond in prayer using resources provided by Common Grace. If you can stay for a meal afterwards, so much the better – and if you can, bring something to share which includes local bushfoods.


Emailed to Sanctuary 21 December 2022 © Sanctuary, 2022. Found a fuzzy photo of the dunes on my phone, words not photography being my strength! Sanctuary is based on Peek Wurrung country. Acknowledgement of country here

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