Do I not fill heaven and earth? says the Lord. (Jeremiah 23:24)
Once upon a time, our ancestor Jacob went on a journey. He left the place called Beer-sheba and came to the place called Luz. It had been a long day on the road; it was now twilight. The first stars were becoming visible in the darkling sky. So he took one of the stones of that place, a flat stone, a smooth stone, and brushed off the dirt; then he used it as a pillow. He wrapped himself tightly in his traveling cloak, and drifted into a deep, God-filled sleep. While he was dreaming, he saw a stairway reaching from that place all the way to heaven, and God’s messengers were travelling between heaven and earth.
On this continent, European Christians have often ignored or even denied that God is in this place. Colonization was justified by describing the land as wilderness and its peoples as godless or worse. The colonial project also rejected the intrinsic goodness of the earth as set out in Genesis 1, and interpreted God’s charge to care for and preserve the earth (Genesis 2) through the lens of domination and exploitation.
But if we believe that God fills the earth, and we do, then God must be here. Always was, always will be, we might say. If we trust in God’s word, and we do, then this land is good in and of itself, not just for what we can take from it. And if we believe God is three-in-one, that is, Creator, Christ and Spirit, and we do, then Christ has always been here. Europeans brought the Bible and the stories of Jesus, but the First Peoples already knew Christ through Country.
Most stories of Country are not ours to tell, but we have our own stories. We can share those moments when we sensed God’s presence in the landscape, and we can describe where it happened. At Thunder Point, at the bridge over the river in Woodford, in the Botanic Gardens, or even, perhaps, at the industrial estate.
We can point out features in the landscape which remind us of God’s characteristics. Cobwebs in a Cudgee paddock. The roots of a Moreton Bay fig tree. Coastal erosion at Picnic Point.
We can celebrate the earth’s goodness, in and of itself, and we can testify to glimpses of Christ in the garden, at the beach, on the road, and among people, and name which garden, which beach, what road, and where those people were. We can inscribe the landscape with sacred stories so that when others are in those particular places, they, too, can see those places through our faith-filled eyes. Perhaps they’ll even catch a glimpse of the ever-present but always elusive Living God.
As whitefellas living and worshipping on stolen land, to turn to the earth, to celebrate its goodness, to pay attention, to listen, and to learn from what the spirit is communicating through the land is crucial. It’s a turning away from multiple sins, including the rejection of the earth’s goodness, the refusal to care for and preserve the earth, and the denial that God has always been here; and it’s a turning towards God and the creation that God insists is good. In other words, it’s a powerful act of repentance.
This Lent, then, these stories, prayers, poems and photos are a witness to our repentance. As you read these stories and pray your way through the landscape, I pray that you will see each place afresh through God-filled Spirit-inspired eyes. And I hope and pray that we can all keep turning towards God, towards country, and towards healing.
Long ago, our ancestor Jacob woke from his sleep. He yawned and stretched. Suddenly, he remembered his dream. He said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place—and I didn’t know it!’ And he was afraid, and said, ‘How awesome is this place. This is none other than the house of God, and this, the gate of heaven.’
My friends, the Lord is in this place, too: and the beautiful stories and images which will be published here over Lent show it. Let’s keep waking up to God’s holy presence, in this and every place. Amen. Ω
What is this? Lent is the 40 days, excluding Sundays, before Easter. Traditionally it is a time of reflection and pilgrimage. To help you on this journey, Sanctuary has put together daily stories and images from people in the congregation which are focused on God in this place. Why this theme? See above! #Lent2023. Our Spiritual Geography © Sanctuary, 2023. Sanctuary is based on Peek Whurrong country. Full acknowledgement of country here.
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