MAGAZINE NO. 150 [ December 2020 ]
INSIDE THIS ISSUE
PULP FICTIONS: HUMAN RELATIONS AND RACISM TODAY by Toni Hassan 5
FORGIVENESS – THROUGH LANGUAGE by Helen Rainger 12
IN A STRANGE LAND: THE NECESSITY OF LAMENT (PSALM 137) by Sarah Bachelard 13
IN MEMORY OF TOROPO: REFLECTIONS ON LIBERATION FROM VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN by Elaine Farmer 18
PRAYING TO THE GOD WHO DOESN’T EXIST by Fergus McGinley 25
JESUS TO PILATE by Colin Alcock 28
LAND by Susanna Pain 29
‘WALTZING MATILDA’ AND THE MYTH OF PEACEFUL SETTLEMENT by Robbie Tulip 33
My Book of the Year for 2020 was published last year, but I think that still counts. Robert McFarlane’s eloquent, disarming Underland (Hamish Hamilton 2019) is a beautifully realised exploration of deep time.
McFarlane goes deep, literally. The book investigates his experiences beneath the earth’s surface throughout Europe. He divides these experiences into three ‘chambers’ – ‘Seeing’, which finds him stumbling on subterranean boulders beneath British soil, or visiting a dark matter facility beneath the North Sea; ‘Hiding’, where he drifts on a starless river in an Italian cavern, descends to a war crime site in Slovenia; and the final chamber, ‘Haunting’, winds towards the Arctic, stopping at a site of prehistoric cave-paintings, and a nuclear waste facility.
Beneath the ground, nothing marks the passing of the hours. Divorced from the light, time doesn’t rush, it ferments. Sometimes, it can be terrifying. In the subterranean city beneath Paris, he’s led by ‘Lina’ into tunnels so close you can feel your palms sweating::
Fear slithers up my spine, spills greasy down my throat … I lie flat, loop pack to foot, edge in head first. The clearance above is so tight that I again have to turn my skull sideways to proceed. The clearance to the sides is so scant that my arms are nearly locked to my body. The stone of the ceiling is cracked into blocks, and sags around the cracks. Claustrophobia grips me like a full-body vice, pressing in on my chest and lungs, squeezing breath hard, setting black stars exploding in my head. (p 167)
Soon after this, the terror of small space is compounded by the deafening and prolonged sound of a kind of thunder – exiting the tunnel, Lina tells him they had been crawling in a space just below the Paris metro.
Yet time spent below isn’t time divorced from life on the surface. Rather, it clarifies, articulates – ‘haunts’, as it were. Meaning or the lack of it becomes stark, cut loose from the trivia and distractions which obsess us in the current of days, weeks and months. The things that happen above are made vivid and insistent by their absence. In a sense, spiritual experience isn’t an aspect of life, it is all life. In Greenland and Finland, the inescapability of climate change is trowelled from the earth, in Slovenia, the dark, gaping mouth into which enemy soldiers were thrown is inhabited by the living and by ghosts.
Overtly pertinent to spiritual experience is his visit to a scientific research station investigating dark matter facility beneath the North Sea – in a salt mine, of all things. There, ‘shielded from the surface by 3,000 feet of halite, gypsum, dolomite, mudstone, siltstone, sandstone, clay and topsoil’, a young scientist sits at his computer, ‘trying to catch the faint breath of particle wind sent blowing across the universe’. No one knows what dark matter is, whether it even exists. Its investigation, McFarlane contends, is an act of faith.
When he suggests this to Christopher, the young scientist at the screen, Christopher tell him he was a strong Christian in his earlier life, lost his faith on discovering physics and has returned to it with a deeper, more complex understanding of the working of God in the universe:
‘No divinity in which I would wish to believe would declare itself by means of what we would recognize as evidence … If there is a god, we should not be able to find it. If I detected proof of a deity, I would distrust that deity on the grounds that a god should be smarter than that.’ (p 69)
This issue of EREMOS is about the things that happen below the surface of living, the way they shape life, often without our knowledge and understanding, the way they disrupt and terrify, the way they give comfort and meaning.
Toni Hassan talks uncompromisingly of her experience as a woman of colour, both in her native South Africa and her adopted homeland in Australia. Her father, she notes, was so ingrained in racist attitudes that it was almost part of his DNA, something he accepted as if it were just the way life is. Robbie Tulip uses ‘Waltzing Matilda’ as a metaphor for the seamless burial of genocide in our history, as if it were just the way life is. Elaine Farmer decries the way domestic violence has been institutionalised in the fabric of our society, particularly and alarmingly the daily life of the church.
Sarah Bachelard laments that the 2020 pandemic has dug us from the complacency of our privileged lives, thrown us unprotected at the mercy of forces we thought we’d mastered, taken us from our comfortable ‘homeland’ to a time in the wilderness similar, in a way, to the exodus of the descendants of Abraham. Susanna Pain, elaborating on the loss of familiarity COVID has engendered, suggests: ‘The ground on which you are standing is Holy ground, the place where you are is sacred space … God is inviting you to turn aside, to let go what you’re doing for the moment and face the bush which is burning, face the utter holiness of God, the burning presence of God.’
Finally, Fergus McGinley, a little like that young scientist hunched over a computer beneath the North Sea, mischievously invites us to consider that we pray to a God who doesn’t exist, a God who isn’t there, because the God who is there is so far beyond our understanding that we’ve had to invent one to whom we can relate, and who can relate to us.
There are buried things both below and above ground. Regardless, they are hidden from us. The authors of this issue of EREMOS invite us to consider the buried things, to haul them out and bring them into the light.