EREMOS: a magazine for those on the ‘edge’
21st March 2023
By Stephen Webb
Eremos and its newsletter, now magazine, has been a beacon of intelligence on matters spiritual and Australian for 40 years.
A special 40th Anniversary Edition of EREMOS was published in April 2023 and contains an extended selection of the most significant articles and interviews published over the past 40 years, interspersed with some of the most striking magazine covers.
According to magazine editor, John Foulcher, reading four decades of magazine content provided a wealth of insight and an overview of the development and changes to Australian spirituality. What people wrote about, how they expressed it, the artwork and poetry, all created a picture that was worth exploring, he said. It gave a distinctive perspective of Australian spiritual and religious thinking, activity and enlargement.
Eremos through all its activities has continually sought to present a broad range of diverse understandings and experiences which contribute to Australian Spirituality. In making his choices John and the Eremos Council looked for articles which presented a variety of perspectives, topics, and styles.
The 140-page edition of EREMOS Magazine contains five artworks and 25 articles and interviews published over the past 40 years.
Contributors include: Colin Alcock, Bruce Wilson, Sarah Bachelard, Les Murray, Jacquie Pryor, Don Meadows, Jane Foulcher, Heather Thomson, Kerrie Hide, Hedley Beare, Charles Birch, Veronica Brady, Rob O’Brien, Toni Hassan and many more.
The Special Edition was be launched at Pitt Street Uniting Church, Sydney, on April 30.
What is Eremos?
The phrase most associated with Eremos is “exploring spirituality in Australia”.
Since its foundation Eremos has been a forum where people could ask questions of meaning, doubt, faith and belief, and explore and reflect on spiritual and related issues. It describes itself as an inclusive association with its roots in Christianity, offering a forum and support for individuals and communities to explore, express and deepen their spirituality within an Australian context.
Members have described Eremos as a “gathering and centring point for companions who follow their yearnings and go to the edge”. They have appreciated Eremos as a supportive network and an independent voice, with its inclusiveness being one of its greatest strengths.
One member described Eremos as, “An oasis for sustenance, renewal, shared understanding.”
Eremos has addressed not just a metaphorical wilderness. It has spoken to people experiencing real wilderness in their lives: people isolated geographically (in rural and remote areas), physically (because of age or disability) and socially (because their family, community or congregations did not understand their faith or theological position).
It has offered its members something different – something valuable — because that was their genuine experience. It has been seen as a progressive, enlightened Christian voice, open to exploring deep questions, and able to embrace diversity.
Eremos members have appreciated its support for inclusiveness and intelligence, for acknowledging doubt and mystery and the importance of creativity, for being sensitive to the complexity and diversity of spirituality, for accessing modern thinking and approaches to spiritual practice, and for supporting the discussion of Australian spirituality.
In the beginning
Eremos began as a result of friendships connected with St George’s Paddington and St Stephen’s Newtown: Bruce Wilson, Don Meadows, Colin Alcock and the late Jacquie Pryor, alongside a coterie of enthusiastic people; people who took hold of a vision of spirituality that stood out as authentic, exploratory and profound.
They have been described as “literary, educated explorers of ideas and the world”; people with a broad and deep grasp of the world and for whom there seemed to be no boundaries they feared crossing. They practised times of silence and solitude, combined with reflective group discussions, solitary walks and celebratory meals.
Eremos put them all into a position where they were “suddenly listening very intimately to the personal lives of others who were struggling with their faith and with their ways of living”.
Eremos was then (as it is now) for “people in need of a spirituality that spoke to an increasingly baffling, challenging and intriguing world”, people “looking for an informed and generous understanding of reality from a spiritual view”.
Many people wanted to explore a form of faith that offered more than reliance on an infallible Bible; an approach that engaged feeling as well as thought, drawing on the arts as well as the sciences.
When John Dominic Crossan visited Australia in the 1990s and spoke to a large audience at an Eremos event organised by Eremos, one attendee recalled, “I knew something as possible that had felt impossible, that the freedom to seek truth unfettered could go hand in hand with seeking to follow Jesus.”
Then and now
And how does the current magazine editor look upon the history he has had to review and the future he will report on?
John Foulcher reflected on what he had read in order to compile the 40th Anniversary edition of EREMOS Magazine and said, “I think there are timeless articles, articles written in the 1980s that are still relevant now, and there are articles that also spoke to their age and therefore have a historical place and historical significance that should be noted.”
So what is special about Eremos?
“I think the obvious and simple thing that’s special about Eremos is that it’s lasted 40 years. In the 1980s and the 1970s, a lot of magazines came out that were trying to reconcile the massive changes in the world with religious belief, in Christian belief, but then faded. But Eremos is still here.
“What’s unique about it is that it seems to have addressed something, a need in a certain group of people for quite some time.
“Bruce Wilson wanted to bring to people’s attention a lot of developments that were not being acknowledged in the Anglican Church in Sydney. There was a sense in which what started as a Sydney movement became quite a national movement because there was a shortage of daring views of spiritual life, views that were not being promoted within the Christian Church.
“There were a lot of ‘edge’ people who couldn’t quite reconcile themselves to the way the church was operating at large. A lot of those people were leaving the Church and Eremos presented them with an alternative: you didn’t have to go along with that kind of orthodoxy; you could think and have religious beliefs at the same time.
“I think that remains Eremos’ great contribution. It’s there for people on the edge, people who don’t want to be at the centre of things. I still think there’s a need to cater for those people.”
Foulcher sees Eremos’ role now as being a “joiner”, challenging people on all sides of things to think, but also to help them see what they’ve got in common and to move forward together.
“I want us to always think, ‘Well what’s the other side?’ And to present that other side … I think that’s really important.”
But he still thinks Eremos shouldn’t shear away from its Christian foundations.
“We all have deep spiritual yearnings — we have yearnings for something beyond the physical — and the Christian story for me is a way of galvanising that. It acknowledges the truth of human nature; it acknowledges the place of suffering and conflict in the world.
“But it also offers hope, and it offers a way forward, a moral code and a way of looking at life that we’ve lost. We want to bring it back but we don’t want to bring it back in the way it was. We need to reshape it, to reform it, and to rename it. We need to rescue religious and spiritual life from dogma. I think there’s a lot of hunger for that out there.
Foulcher said Eremos will continue to publish articles by people who were promoting other ways of looking at the spiritual life but, “It doesn’t mean that we should abandon our own way of looking at things.
“To me a liberated Christianity — not the repressive one that we see so much in the media — has a lot to offer the modern world. And I think we’re poorer without it. We need that ethical centre, that spiritual centre that has always been provided by Christianity, despite its problems. If we take that away now, we don’t know what we’re going to replace it with.
Is there a peculiar Australian spirituality?
“Yes. I’m not sure what it is, but I think we are discovering it now, and I think it’s obvious that it comes from Indigenous spirituality. I’ve noticed in the last 15 years how suddenly our Indigenous heritage has lifted its profile and come to the fore in ways that we can no longer ignore.
“It strikes me that Aboriginal spirituality has been able to see the truth about spirituality beyond its brutal usage and to incorporate it with its own way of looking at the world. Why can’t we do the same? Why can’t we turn around now and incorporate Indigenous spirituality into our own way of looking at this ancient land?
“There are a lot of fringe Christian groups now who are examining and trying to engage with this whole way of looking at the world. It’s a kind of deep listening to the world and a deep listening to the land. And, to me, that’s a wonderful development.
“We need to engage with the way Indigenous people have of looking at the world to enhance us as a whole society. That’s a distinctive Australian spirituality and we need to embrace it, not run from it. We need to find it and build it.”
The special 40th Anniversary Edition of EREMOS Magazine was launched on 30 April at Pitt Street Uniting Church, Sydney. This event was recorded. Details here: 30 April Launch
Images used in this story
Title image is the cover of the 40th Anniversary Special EREMOS edition with artwork by Margaret Ackland
Photos are from the Eremos 30th Anniversary Retreat in September 2012
- Sue Dunbar and Bruce Wilson
- Colin Alcock and Don Meadows
- Janet O'Sullivan, Sue Emeleus and Jacquie Pryor
Magazine Cover is August 1997, 15th Anniversary Edition. Artwork by Margaret Ackland