MAGAZINE NO. 151 [ April 2021 ]
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April 2021 cover artwork: Larapinta Trail by Janice Collins. photograph, 2020.
INSIDE THIS ISSUE
ME AND EREMOS – COLIN ALCOCK
interviewed by John Foulcher 5
ME AND EREMOS – DON MEADOWS
interviewed by John Foulcher 10
JESUS IS THE QUESTION GOD ASKS
by Philip Carter 14
PALMER by Sanjeev Sethi 20
POULTICE by Sanjeev Sethi 21
PARKINSON’S AND ME by Patricia Fairall 22
ON CHRISTIAN MEDITATION by John O’Donnell 26
A DIFFERENT RHYTHM (NINE DAYS ON THE
LARAPINTA TRAIL WEST OF ALICE SPRINGS,
AUGUST 11-19 2020) by Janice Collins 32
In James Smythe’s 2012 speculative novel, The Testimony, people all over the world suddenly hear a burst of static. Then a voice says ‘My children’. That’s all. No one is quite sure whether it’s an external voice or a voice in their heads, but almost everyone hears it and its effect is immediate. Religious leaders are convinced it’s the voice of God and all world religions are subsumed into one. Self-proclaimed rationalists look for other explanations and flail about with increasingly bizarre theories. Terrorist attacks ramp up everywhere and societies which were stable start to falter.
Some weeks later, the static reoccurs, and the voice says ‘Do not be afraid’. The result? Panic and terror. Don’t be afraid of what? The movement towards social decay rapidly escalates and people start dying in droves, both from human violence and unknown causes. Everywhere, chaos erupts.
I won’t tell you the end of this enigmatic and fascinating book (it’s a great read) but the underlying concern of the novel is our need for certainty and order and the lengths people will go to get it, even if it clutching at sheaths of rotten straws. Reading the novel, I was reminded of GK Chesterton’s assertion: ‘When men choose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing, they then become capable of believing in anything.’ The worldwide growth in conspiracy theories testifies to Chesterton’s contention – in an increasingly fragmented world, where old certainties are crumbling, people everywhere are desperate for something to give their lives meaning, no matter how absurd the ‘answers’ they clutch may seem.
This the world Eremos has negotiated for most of its existence. Next year, we turn forty. Over that period of time, church attendances have plummeted in western, ‘Christian’ societies, and belief in God has fallen away at an unprecedented rate. Many religions have doubled down in reaction to the creeping tide of scepticism – they’ve become more dogmatic, less accepting of change, more convinced that they need to return to the fundamentals of their sacred texts. They’ve mined their bridges and built walls to keep this increasingly threatening world out.
Eremos has chosen another way. We’ve embraced a faith of uncertainties, a faith that asks the right questions rather than providing half-baked answers. Eremos follows Jesus into the wilderness and sits with him there. Eremos recognises the limits of our knowledge and our tendencies to anthropomorphise the universe. We wait in humility and gratitude. We listen for God’s voice in the whirlwind (the static, perhaps) and don’t pretend to completely understand it when it blows about us. As a postscript to Chesterton, perhaps we need to acknowledge the tenuousness of our beliefs if the exodus from faith is to be stemmed.
Philip Carter affirms this approach is his finely tuned article, ‘Jesus is the Question God Asks’, while both John O’Donnell (‘On Christian Meditation’) and Janice Collins (‘A Different Rhythm’) take time to stop and consider the still, small voice of God, one by sitting and one by walking. O’Donnell turns inward in his consideration of Christian meditation, while Collins turns to the desertscape of the Larapinta Trail west of Alice Springs in a meditative, poem-like sequence of reflections on turning seventy. For some, the body as the temple of God becomes an ambiguous blessing, as Patricia Fairall (‘Parkinson’s and Me’) considers in her clear-eyed consideration of life lived in the grip of a debilitating disease. All approach the question of our place in God’s universe with a humble spirit and an inquiring mind.
To mark the approach of Eremos’s fortieth year, I interviewed two of our founding fathers, Colin Alcock and Don Meadows, whose vision and determination made Eremos possible. Each considers the reasons they felt Eremos was necessary all those years ago, and both the trials and the joys of Eremos in its early days. They also talk of their own spiritual journeys and what sustains them now, each of them no longer what we may call ‘a young man’. At the time of writing, the third in the triumvirate of Eremos founders, Bruce Wilson, is gravely ill and was unable to be interviewed. Both Don and Colin acknowledge the enormous debt Eremos owes to Bruce, who was a driving force and an inspiration to all who knew him in those heady, early days. Our prayers are with Bruce and those close to him in these difficult times.
Eremos began as a reaction to a stultifying environment, a context where questioning one’s faith often led to a kind of ‘shunning’ by many in various churches. It’s sustained many who felt themselves on the edges of faith over the years, and helped many to conclude the edge is actually at the very heart of the spiritual journey.
Do not be afraid. The desert is welcoming.