INSIDE THIS ISSUE
LES MURRAY: POET AND THEOLOGIAN
by Bruce Wilson 5
MEETING LES MURRAY by Don Meadows 7
REFLECTING ON THE LEGACIES OF LES MURRAY
by John Foulcher 9
THE RELIGIOUS LIFE AND THE LIFE OF RELIGION
by Rachael Kohn 14
BEING CHURCH: THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX
by Linda Chapman 20
CORRYMEELA: LIFE IN THE LUMPY CROSSING PLACE
by Susan Hanna 24
AS IT IS IN HEAVEN by Hilary Berthon 29
FALLING INTO THE ABYSS: DOSTOEVESKY’S ‘THE DOUBLE’ AND MENTAL ILLNESS by Ryan Buesnel 32
MANGROVE MUSINGS by Sandi Steward 37
GOD MOMENTS by Quentin Grafton 43
We begin our August issue with three farewell tributes to Les Murray, Australian poet, anthologist, literary critic and winner of several prestigious awards, including the TS Eliot Prize (1996), who died in April. Some of you might not realise his connection with Eremos – especially during the 1980s. As Bruce Wilson points out in ‘Les Murray: Poet and Theologian’, Les was a good friend to Eremos, often travelling vast distances to feature at an Eremos-sponsored poetry reading. Don Meadows humorously captures the flavour of one such event, while Bruce Wilson argues why Murray deserves the title of prophet/theologian as well as poet – not, he hastens to add, that Les would have wanted that. In a 1987 EREMOS Occasional Essay called Embodiment and Incarnation: Notes on Preparing an Anthology of Australian Religious Verse, he says, ‘Poetry is my work, my field and I think my vocation, the prime channel through which I ever achieve (or am given) any apprehension of ultimate or Divine things’.
John Foulcher, also a published poet, pays tribute not only to Les Murray the poet but also the encourager ‘of a whole generation of Australian poets’. John’s personal and scholarly reflection invites us to see how Murray’s ‘religious faith is the thread that weaves its way through his entire oeuvre, at times almost imperceptibly, and it refuses to be reduced to a simple formula’.
Rachael Kohn, former presenter of Radio National’s The Spirit of Things and recipient of an Order of Australia this year, has also been a generous supporter of Eremos and its vision. So, on hearing that Rachael was to retire from the ABC at the end of 2018, we invited her to write an article to mark this transition. And we were not disappointed. In ‘The Religious Life and the Life of Reflection’, an essay informed by an impressive breadth of research and experience, Rachael reflects on the relationship between religion and culture, saying, among other things, that religion is ‘a product of its surrounds as much as the heir of ancient traditions’. Rachael is sometimes provocative, and always encouraging, not to give in to ‘cultural cringe’ by accepting ‘too readily the critique of disgruntled atheists’, nor to succumb to bland inclusivism or non-nuanced reductionism.
At a time when declining church membership makes it difficult for many churches to remain viable, St John’s Moruya on the South Coast of NSW has been exploring other ways of doing church. In ‘Being Church: Thinking Outside of the Box’, Linda Chapman also raises the theme of the relationship between church and social and cultural context. She shares her community’s evolving attempts to combine a commitment to traditional Christian contemplative roots with a practice that addresses contemporary issues of renewal, inclusion and ecology. Linda was also recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list.
In ‘Corrymeela: Life in the Lumpy Crossing Place’ Sue Hanna reflects on her experience of volunteering in an ecumenical community devoted to reconciliation in Northern Ireland. Like Taizé, founded by Br Roger, Corrymeela, founded by Rev Ray Davy, also emerged out of its founder’s WW2 experiences. Such places provide a ‘third space’, a neutral zone where reconciliating conversations can happen. Do we have such spaces here in Australia?
A ‘third space’ can also be provided by a poem, a work of art, a book or film. Hilary Berthon’s reflection on a study group experience based on the Swedish film, As It is in Heaven, is also about emerging community – in the study group as well as the film. She was impressed by the film’s ‘portrayal of the growing coherence of a community, transitioning from being one which ‘turns a blind eye’ to the violence, bullying and deception which goes on in the village, to an inclusive community in which people support, nurture and protect each other’.
Mental health is an important contemporary issue. In ‘Falling into the Abyss’ Ryan Buesnel discusses the impact of social context on mental illness as reflected in Dostoevsky’s The Double. ‘In our own age of fragmentation and relentless consumerism, The Double implores us to remain sensitive and compassionate in our treatment of others, even though the issue of mental illness may remain complex and challenging for us.’
Sandi Steward’s ‘Mangrove Musings’ reminds us of another form of community – one involving our lived connection with the natural world. Sandi shares how her own journey, in which art is an important spiritual practice, has led to an emerging activism championing these trees. ‘Mangroves have become a symbol of my way to approach God in a meaningful contemporary way.’
Finally, Quentin Grafton invites us to be open to ‘God Moments’. He says, ‘A God Moment is like combining a “pause’”button, that allows us to be still in the moment, with a “plug in” to what we see around us’. Such moments are available to all who have eyes to see.