MAGAZINE NO. 156 [April 2023 ]
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Cover image: Still Life with Magazine and Crucifix Orchid, 2023, watercolour by Margaret Ackland
Funding of the colour cover for the printed issue has been generously donated by an Eremos member.
INSIDE THIS ISSUE
COVER PAGE 1: IDRIS MURPHY AUGUST 1985 7
‘INSIDE OUT: THE WORLD WITHIN MEETS
THE WORLD WITHOUT’ FEBRUARY 1984
Colin Alcock 8
‘PLEASE DO NOT ADJUST YOUR SET’ FEBRUARY 1984
Bruce Wilson 13
‘ABORIGINAL SPIRITUALITY: BETWEEN THE DREAMING
AND THE DREAMS’ AUGUST 1985
Jack Horner and Kevin Gilbert 18
‘A WILD AND HOLY CALLING: A CONVERSATION
WITH LES A MURRAY’ AUGUST 1987 24
‘NOT IN OUR IMAGE: OUR LANDSCAPE AND GOD’ AUGUST 1987
Veronica Brady 32
‘THE PRACTICE OF PLEASURE’ AUGUST 1988
Don Meadows 34
COVER PAGE 2: ROB O’BRIEN NOVEMBER 1999 38
‘WHAT PROCESS THOUGHT MEANS TO ME’ WINTER 1991
Charles Birch 39
‘WOMEN: THE WORLD’S NEEDS IN THE CHURCH’ SPRING 1992
Catherine Eaton 48
‘THINKING ABOUT THE INTERNATIONAL YEAR
FOR THE WORLD’S INDIGENOUS PEOPLE’ MAY 1994
Jane Foulcher 54
‘A LONG TERM GOD: AN INTERVIEW
WITH TIM WINTON’ MAY 1995
Jacquie Pryor 61
‘ALL THING SHALL BE WELL – BUT EVEN IN SPITE OF
PORT ARTHUR?’ AUGUST 1996
Hedley Beare 65
‘MARKING TERRITORY: THE BATTLE FOR THE BODY’ MAY 1997
James Iliffe 71
‘BETWEEN HEAVEN AND EARTH: A THEOLOGICAL VIEW
OF HUMOUR’ AUGUST 1999
Heather Thomson 76
‘THINKING ALOUD’ NOVEMBER 1999
Diana Neutze 81
COVER PAGE 3: FRANKIE BOWIE FEBRUARY 2004 84
‘SEXUALITY AND MINISTRY’ FEBRUARY 2004
Elaine Alinta (EA) 85
‘BRINGING SPIRITUALITY DOWN TO EARTH’ MAY 2004
Nancy M Victorin-Vangerud 89
‘TO WHAT DO WE ASPIRE’ NOVEMBER 2004
Graham English 94
‘GOD AND THE BEAUTY BUZZ’ AUGUST 2009
Les C Higgins 100
COVER PAGE 4: JUDITH MEHR DECEMBER 2017 105
‘THE DIGNITY OF WAITING’ FEBRUARY 2011
Sue Emeleus 106
‘PEN, PAPER AND A PRAYER MAT’ SEPTEMBER 2015
Xanthan Black Cockatoo 110
‘THE MARK OF RECONCILIATION’ MARCH 2016
Sarah Bachelard 114
‘LIVING IN THE GROUND OF “ONEING”’ MARCH 2017
Kerrie Hide 117
‘ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE: THE GREAT DISRUPTOR’ AUGUST 2018
Quentin Grafton 122
COVER PAGE 5: TONI HASSAN AUGUST 2021 125
‘PULP FICTIONS’ DECEMBER 2020
Toni Hassan 126
‘THE UNTIDY CIRCLE: AN INTERVIEW
WITH GREG SHERIDEN’ DECEMBER 2021
John Foulcher 133
When I was about twenty, I attended an Anglican church in suburban Sydney. Once when I expressed a few doubts about the shape of my faith to our minister, he recommended a book to me called Knowing God by JI Packer. Although it was quite expensive, I bought a copy of it because it was an attractive hardback edition – I’ve always had a fondness for judging a book by its cover. Its title, however, should have warned me. It was the sort of thing many Evangelicals were fond of – a collection of arguments bound up in a thick net of Bible verses, usually from the letters of St Paul. Everything in Knowing God seemed to lack a sense of story, of possibility.
From the moment I confessed to the minister that I wasn’t impressed with the book, I felt a distance between us. He went on to ask, ‘Do you feel convicted of sin?’ ‘I’m not sure what you mean by that,’ I replied, following it up with something like: ‘If you mean, do I feel broken, incomplete and in need of God to make me whole, then, yes, I do. But I don’t quite understand the word, ‘sin’. I think we need to find a new word.’ No doubt I’ve become more articulate in recollection, but this was the thrust of what I had to say. He was quiet for a moment, then said to me, ‘John, I hate to have to tell you this, but you may not be a Christian at all.’
Had it not been for groups such as Eremos, I probably would have drifted away from Christianity after that conversation. How many searchers, particularly the young, have been told things such as this by church leaders over the years? How many of them have consequently left the church to look elsewhere for meaning?
In his editorial in the May 1985 issue of the Eremos Newsletter, Colin Alcock, in discussing an article about its author’s disillusionment with the church, writes:
There are, I suspect, many people like this writer. For them, the dominant feeling towards official Christianity is not anger, not bitterness, just disappointment. The point is, to a large extent, we have failed them . . . The church so often looks not like the ‘keeper of the dimension of depth’ but rather like a keeper from the dimension of depth. And so, true seekers after abundant life naturally look elsewhere.
This statement captures the impetus that forty years ago led to the creation of Eremos. It was the brainchild of Rev Bruce Wilson, who was at the time rector of St George’s Anglican Church in Paddington, having previously been a chaplain at the University of NSW. The parish was becoming a mecca for those who wanted to explore the Christian faith that was not always possible in more conservative evangelical parishes.
Bruce, his wife Zandra and a group of others were reconnecting with broader traditions in a kind of Christianity that was thoughtful, open, experiential, contemplative and actively engaged with Australian society. Their enthusiasm and courage were infectious, and soon this approach was also taking root at St Stephen’s Anglican Church in Newtown, where Bruce’s friend Don Meadows was the rector. Colin Alcock was allocated a room there to establish and edit what was to become the Eremos newsletter. There on the fringe of the Anglican church in Sydney, Bruce, Don, Colin, Jacqui Pryor and others were conceptualising a revitalised way of exploring Christian faith. When Lesley and Jack Hazlitt made their holiday home at McMasters Beach on the Central Coast of NSW available for retreats, a place was born where immersion in the spiritual journey could be individual and communal, silent and garrulous.
A new organisation was forming and it needed a name. Bruce thought something to do with ‘wilderness’ or ‘desert’ would be appropriate, and Don suggested the Greek word for wilderness – ‘Eremos’ (he recalls that his Greek fish marketeer laughed out loud when Don told him what would be the group’s name!). The term ‘eremos’ is used nearly fifty times in the New Testament, mainly in the Gospels. It’s the place inhabited by the wild prophet, John the Baptist, the place where Jesus retreats in order to escape the pressures of the crowd, the place where the devil comes to him, ironically helping him to clarify his way forward. It’s the place of exposure, where we make ourselves vulnerable and where we come to see ourselves more clearly, away from the trappings of the worlds we know. It’s the place of journey, not of destination.
It was the perfect term for this fledging organisation.
‘The Eremos Newsletter’ was the means of passing information to members. It soon morphed into ‘EREMOS ‘Magazine of the Eremos Institute’ and finally ‘EREMOS Exploring Spirituality in Australia’, upper case being used in the latter two instances to distinguish between the magazine and the institute itself. Originally published four times a year, it was reduced in three in 2018 to reduce the workload for its voluntary editor and ensure the quality of contributions was maintained.
Over forty years, EREMOS has published articles addressing spirituality in a changing Australia. In western society, the eruption of ideas and practices post-WWII gave rise to new ways of thinking, new ways of seeing the world, creating society and creating church. Eremos took up the challenge.
In compiling this anthology of some of the best writing from EREMOS over the past forty years, I saw several recurring themes and preoccupations. Firstly, there was an active engagement with neglected traditions of Christian spirituality and contemplative practice, embodied in people such as Evelyn Underhill, the Anglo-Catholic writer and spiritual director who wrote in the first part of the twentieth century (not included here, though). This, of course, was the essence of Eremos, embodied in the popular program of retreats at McMasters Beach.
Secondly, Eremos sought to engage with developments in thinking and social movements that were flourishing in the 1970’s and 80’s. Most significant among these were the emerging women’s movement; widening acceptance of a multiplicity of sexualities and gender identities; the growing concern with environmental issues; and the spiritual wisdom of our First Nations citizens. Whereas many traditional Christian institutions were seen as ‘battening down the hatches’ against these developments, Eremos embraced them, seeking to learn from them and to be open about ways in which new knowledge could affect centuries-old imaging of God.
Underlying all of Eremos’s approaches was a concern with the nature of spirituality itself: could the spiritual life be contained in one tradition, and was there a particular temperament in Australian spirituality? Some contributors thought Eremos’s emphasis should be more overtly on spirituality rather than religion, while others felt the need for an abiding Christian character in the organisation. Some of those crucial to the development of Eremos found that they could no longer call themselves Christian, drawing their concepts of spirituality from other traditions and practices. Eremos, though, continued to be a place where differences were welcome among those who came to it for sustenance. One of Eremos’s great strengths was the ways in which it held disagreement and debate gently. All had a place here.
Recognising this multiplicity of views, the Council placed this statement on the inside cover of each issue of EREMOS: ‘Eremos is 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.’
The question of a distinctively Australian spirituality was a major preoccupation in EREMOS. Writers such as David Tacey and Veronica Brady were discussed in its pages, and EREMOS emphasised the importance of our novelists, poets, musicians and visual artists in shaping this concern. There were analyses of the work of writers such as the novelists Tim Winton and Morris West, and the poet Les Murray, writers for whom the spiritual dimension of life was essential. These three writers were interviewed for EREMOS, and two of those interviews are reproduced here. EREMOS also explored indigenous Australia, ancient traditions which saw the spirit embodied in the land, a connection which modern Australia had neglected or ignored, much to the impoverishment of our national character. When she was appointed Senior Australian of the Year in 2021. When she was appointed Senior Australian of the Year in 2021, Dr Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr Baumann suggested that Aboriginal Australia had been forced to listen to Anglo-Australia since the early days of settlement/invasion, but perhaps it was time now for us to listen to them. Eremos embraced this course of action from its inception.
I’ve always been a big David Bowie fan. When he died in January 2016, I was teaching in a secondary school. When school resumed, I remarked to one of my Year 10 classes, ‘So sad! David Bowie died in the holidays!’ There was a quizzical silence. ‘Who?’ one student asked. ‘Oh yes,’ said another, ‘I know him. My parents have got some of his CDs.’
I suddenly realised that the man who was so cutting edge, who shocked and changed the way society works, was in the eyes of the kids of the 21st century about as daring and dangerous as Bing Crosby.
How quickly radical, revolutionary ideas become new orthodoxies! When the 2017 plebiscite for marriage equality was held, my students couldn’t see what the fuss was about. Of course gay people should be allowed to marry, just like everyone else. What’s the problem? The results of the plebiscite suggested their views were widely held. Had the same plebiscite been conducted in 1970, there would have almost certainly been a very different outcome.
Many of the edgy positions Eremos championed in the latter part of the 20th century are now commonplace in society. Much of what the founders of Eremos regarded as radical and daring are now mainstream. As we progress towards the mid-21st century, then, this provides Eremos with new dilemma: do we accept that EREMOS now has a more mainstream identity or do we continue to pursue a ‘cutting edge’ agenda? If the latter, what does it look like? What’s the battleground of ideas for younger generations?
Of course, there’s nothing virtuous in pursuing ‘newness’ for its own sake; people of integrity in any era should be concerned with the pursuit of truth, regardless of faddish notions of relevance. But when a belief or a mode of thinking become dominant, how quickly we become complacent, how quickly our ways of approaching the world become lazy, easy gestures.
All this takes on a particular significance in an environment where social media is the new ideological bully on the block. We’ve seen how quick people are to label others ‘racist’, for instance, resulting in the kind of puritanical cancelling we see daily in public debate. In another age, a distinction was made between ‘racism’ and ‘ethnocentrism’, but the latter term seems to have disappeared from the language, so the Ku Klux Klan and the commentator who can’t pronounce the Samoan footballer’s name are both tarred with the same brush and subject to the same condemnation. Similarly, the distinction between ‘sexism’ and ‘misogyny’ seems to have evaporated, so the evangelical Christian who believes men should be the head of the house must now be described as ‘hating’ women. On the other side of things, ideas which challenge more conservative thinking are dismissed as ‘woke’ and therefore don’t have to be considered at all.
In this highly partisan, even toxic environment, what really qualifies as ‘radical’ thinking and practice? Are there new frontiers for Eremos, where we may have to question the assumptions we’ve always made about the spiritual journey? What will they look like? These are questions Eremos needs to address as we renegotiate our place in the spiritual life of an Australian society that is once again changing rapidly. As readers and contributors to EREMOS, let’s look forward with excitement.
Choosing the articles which comprise this issue wasn’t easy. EREMOS has published so many wonderful article which deserve not to be lost, but space is limited. I made a shortlist of forty-five articles and distributed them to my fellow councillors; we each chose our top twenty-five and I made the final decision based on these choices.
In making this final selection, I looked for articles which either reflected the zeitgeist or which seemed as relevant today as they were when they were published; the best articles did both. Some of the language used in the earliest articles may not be considered appropriate in 2023, but we at Eremos don’t see the value in censoring the past to make it more acceptable. You will also find five previous covers of EREMOS here, each introducing a particular decade. There were an astonishing of wonderful covers by a range of talented artists – it was very hard to choose! We also decided to re-produce the articles in the same format as their original publication. In this way, the changing face of EREMOS over time could also be seen.
This necessitated the reproduction of biographies for each contributor which are obviously out of date, some by decades. I invite those contributors to let us know where they are now – what they’re doing, whether their beliefs are still the same – and we’ll let our readers know about their current situations in forthcoming issues and on our website. Publishing deadlines prevented us from doing this beforehand. Some of the contributors to this issue are no longer with us; we remember them fondly. Every effort has been made to contact contributors to inform them of the presence of their work in these pages. A very big thanks to all contributors – writers and artists – for their work in these pages, and a particular note of gratitude to Margaret Ackland, who painted the stunning image for the cover of this issue.
Finally, I’d like to thank the previous editors of EREMOS – Colin Alcock, Don Meadows, Jacqui Pryor, Noel Giblett and Frances Mackay. Without their insight and hard work, these articles would never have seen the light of day in the first instance.