Sample Articles

Note: This article is published in EREMOS Magazine No. 158 December 2023. Click here to see the editorial and contents of this issue.


Listening to Country

by Jennifer Rumbel


Yaama maliyaa, gayrr Jenn Gamilaraay ngaya (Hello friends, my name is Jenn. I’m Gamilaraay)

I will begin by acknowledging Country. As you read this, start to become aware of the Country on which you are and name it. Place your feet flat upon the ground and take a purposeful, deep and nourishing breath.


My sense of belonging and connectedness to country is expansive, being an Aboriginal woman born on and raised on Ngunnawal and Yuin Country, now living on Wonnarua Country, while working on and connecting to Awabakal & Biripi Country and my grandfather and father Gamilaraay men. I would like to acknowledge all elders past, present and future on the land and water in which I travel and am connected. I wish to recognise my research is being conducted on the country of the Worimi, Gamilaraay, Wonnarua, Gweagul, Darkinjung, Biripi and Awabakal peoples. I respectfully acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people reading this article, their unceded sovereignty and unbroken connection to land, water, sea, air, and community.


I am a PhD Candidate of Aboriginal studies, an Indigenous Imaging Fellow at Hunter Medical Research Institute in Newcastle, Spiritual Director, a member of the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry in the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, the Chair of the Board for Firstchance, an Early Childhood Early Intervention Service, and a member of the University of Newcastle’s Aboriginal Health Research Panel. 

The truth of our family story and history came later in my life. While I was caring for my father as he grappled with his mortality, he revealed with great sadness how his father was removed from Country at two years old, along with his four-year-old brother, and given to a couple in need of workers. His childhood was spent as a farm labourer; this loss and sadness has been passed on in our search for his story and thus my passion for undertaking PhD research.

It has been through my growth and training as a Spiritual Director along with the use of reflective journalling that I have become aware of my life-long connection to Country, the feelings of comfort, safety, and freedom that Country gives me. Many of my childhood holidays were spent on Yuin Country on my maternal grandfather’s farm. It seemed to me that no one on sheep country liked the crows, but I loved hearing their caws. They, along with the other birds, kept me company on my daily adventures in the bush.

People have said that life in the bush can be isolating or lonely but in last thirty years living on a farm in Wonnarua Country, I have not had this experience. For many, the global pandemic caused the enforced isolation of people, yet in the bush our lives were largely unchanged, I remained free.

Becoming a Spiritual Director was described to me in terms of being ‘broken open’ and ‘put back together’, and this experience certainly rings true for me. I chose to undertake my training at the same time as completing my PhD. The great blessing is that the two studies have complimented each other. The contemplative stance of Spiritual Direction has supported the reflexivity of the research, both of which have opened my self-awareness and located-ness within the experience of Spiritual Directing and my research methodology.

My research has taken me across seven Aboriginal nations. Previously this sort of travel wouldn’t have registered the need to acknowledge the crossing of borders, seeking consent and showing gratitude. Now research and travel bring a greater awareness of whose land I move on and the gratitude that is owed. Indeed, Country has become a partner and collaborator in my research which has necessitated the development of a consent protocol to ensure I have appropriately respected Country. 

For some time now I have been recording various sounds of Country as I become aware of them. In the warmer weather, I heard a new bird’s song. Though I had been unable to see the bird, I wished to record this beautiful melody and so had my trusty digital voice recorder at the ready on my desk. I moved to the door, with DVR in hand and asked Country for consent to record, the bird fell quiet and only the sound of the breeze could be heard. Country had not given consent and I had to accept this. In fact it was months before I was able to record this tune and I was so grateful when I did.

While travelling to meet with my research participants, I would speak to Country, noting the changes in scenery, air, smell, and wildlife. My heart soared and I was always delighted when I spotted my beloved eagle as I drove. I met people where they were comfortable which often meant I was in busy towns, however when I transcribed their interviews, I was home in the bush on Wonnarua Country listening to all the noise and bustle contained in their interviews. One strong memory I have was listening to a Gamilaraay woman telling me about her totem, the Crow. As I was typing the sentence out, I was aware that there were several crows perched on the fence outside my window, cawing and calling. I felt goosebumps on my skin. When the sentence was complete, they took flight. Country had spoken and I had listened.

I have become aware that Country speaks a language we can all understand. We perceive and listen to Country through our senses and feelings, we experience Country on a deeper-than-words level, we are not thinking with our heads, rather feeling with our bodies and hearts. This is not reliant on language, though this is often the method we use to express our experience. 

For years now our mornings begin with my husband Scott and I along with our old kelpie walking several kilometres uphill along our gravel road. I will often begin the walk feeling stiff and inflexible in my body, weighed down by the internal discourse or worries of deadlines and workloads. Then the cool breeze blows, the clouds shift, birds and frogs call out, the fog rolls in and I am jolted into the present moment.  Country has my full attention, and I am listening with my whole body.

On one occasion my mind was wrestling with the challenges of academia and their inflexibility when it comes to Indigenous ways of knowing and being. The walk uphill had been slow and demanding, then as I rounded the bend, I saw a small eucalyptus sapling wrapped by a strangler vine! That was exactly how I felt, as though I was being crushed by an outside force controlling my growth and direction.  Academia was seeking my compliance to their time frame, and this frustrated me, because it was disrespectful of Aboriginal ways. However, being presented with a visual representation of how I was feeling was empowering, there was a sense that Country and the Creator understood implicitly how I felt. Country spoke to me, not in words but through an image which I was able to recognise and relate to. The anguish with which I had walked up the hill had dissolved, I felt at peace, knowing I was not alone in my experience. I was healed, though the problem not resolved, I was given renewed energy to engage in work.

Learning to speak Gamilaraay has also been about reconnection for me. I have been fortunate that one of our daughters joined me and we were able to share our learning, insights and language. It has been challenging for both of us to fit this into our schedules, but the value has been priceless. During one of the classes the lecturer played a song, Wuuna ngay, (Give to me), the song had been written down in the 1890s and was sung over babies as part of a smoking ceremony. The singer noted that it would have been sung over her grandmother, who would later be forbidden to use language. Listening to this connected me to one of my research participant’s stories and to my own grandfather. Was this sung over him as a baby? Later I talked about my feeling and experience of this, and my daughter acknowledged having a very similar emotional experience. Even across the internet there had been an intergenerational re-connection. This time Country was singing to us, healing and returning lost memories.   

Over one weekend I had the opportunity to participate in an intensive journalling workshop, where I learned a great deal about myself, largely from the knowledge that I carried within, and this embodied knowledge had a very powerful impact on me. In the final session, we were to dialogue with our wisdom voice. In preparation we started by writing a list of those people we considered to be wisdom voices for us over the years. We started with an entrance mediation which led us to an inner wisdom stream where we would meet and dialogue with our wisdom person. Suddenly I realised I was no longer walking alongside the stream – I was in it – the water was calm, and I gently paddled my bark canoe across the water. In front of me I noticed another canoe, this one coming towards me and to my surprise seated in the other canoe was Biraban. I was struggling to find words, I was in the company of someone known as a warrior, academically and culturally. I was in awe and so many messy words just tumbled out of my mouth. At this point I decided silence might be the best option. Biraban simply smiled broadly and asked, ‘You like fishing, don’t you?’

The conversation that flowed was about fishing, to nourish yourself, caring for Country and looking after others. It was the most delightful, casual and wisdom-filled yarn, and I was put at ease in the presence of such wisdom. That evening I shared this with Scott, who smiled and nodded, saying he thought that taking some time to go fishing would be a wise investment. We did so the following week. We ventured to a place on Awabakal Country known as Lake Macquarie, which was Biraban’s country. The name Biraban means eaglehawk and over the three days we were there, I sighted ten eagles watching over us. Country had spoken.

This year’s NAIDOC celebrations have been wonderful to be part of, however the physical impact on me has caused feelings of tiredness and heaviness. The following evening, my car’s brakes failed, and while I could acknowledge my gratitude for all that was good amid the mess, I still struggled. I later recalled the words of the Highway Patrol Officer I met. She said to me, ‘Well, I’m told we don’t get any more than we can handle, so I’m hanging on to that thought.’

I returned to my desk the following day, where I can see and hear Country. As I sat there, gazing outwards I watched the wind moving the eucalyptus trees, Country was calling me to come outside. Hesitant to allow myself the time off, I initially conceded to having a coffee in a sunny spot, and Country kept calling with the sunny spots and dancing breezes. As I sat there, I contemplated digging up a garden bed, but then realised this was work…I could still see the trees dancing in the breeze. I resolved to walk, found my boots and a coat, called up the dogs and walked to the trees. I made my walk slow and conscious. I took photos at a distance and then close up of the leaves, I could smell the soothing fragrance of the eucalyptus and the familiar earthy smell of the bush, I could feel the breeze, as I sat on a fallen branch. Time seemed to evaporate along with the demands and pressures I had felt, and I began to feel physically lighter. I felt peace and joy, security, and comfort. Country had called me outside to speak to me, heal me of the pain and difficulties I was experiencing. The difficulties and obstacles were not removed, but the load was lightened.

My sense of being fully present was punctured by reality when I realised that one dog was missing. I called her to no response, so I got up and walked up the slope out from under the tree. As I did so she appeared at the top of the rise.  I heard a flock of cockatoos screeching and looked up to the sky where, not far away, an eagle was soaring. I melted, my eyes filled with tears as I began to smile and acknowledge Country was indeed speaking to me and watching over me. I was filled with a sense of calm.  As I walked back to the house, I looked at the leaves and contemplated my next step after such a life-giving experience: would I just put the leaves in water and go back to my desk to try and do some work? Or could I let go and use this time for Country to nourish me?

By the time I had returned home I had decided to use the time and have a go painting the leaves – after all I had purchased some new paints for this very purpose. I made another coffee and set to methodically painting and photographing my efforts. Several hours had passed before I realised I now had a cold cup of coffee. Just like the eucalyptus leaves in the recent smoking ceremonies of NAIDOC week, these leaves too offered healing and cleansing. Country had called me outside in my pain and difficulty, my deep immersion in this experience was a source of safety and comfort. 

So I ask: has Country been calling you? Have you been listening? Is it time to go outdoors and reconnect?

Through Aboriginal Spirituality I am intimately connected and belong to Country, by connecting with Country I can listen to Country and understand Country’s needs. Country then listens and speaks to me. The practice of listening to and writing with Country is an inclusive, rich in wisdom, nourishing and healing practice. 

Note: This article is published in EREMOS Magazine No. 154 April 2022. Click here to see the editorial and contents of this issue.

Earth at Centre Stage: An Experience of Creation Spirituality



Have you ever dreamed of making a movie that would be a global game changer? Who might you approach to take centre stage as the hero? What lead actors are running through your mind right now? With what seems like unlimited possibilities to draw on, there have been times when movie makers have looked beyond humanity for their most intriguing and inspiring characters. Flora or fauna are imbued with a near-human level of need, intention, purpose, and agency. There are whimsical examples like Peter Rabbit and Skippy the bush kangaroo. And there are more poignant attempts such as Black Beauty and Lassie, whose experiences draw attention to extremes of human compassion and brutality. As a child, I soaked up these tales alongside our more home-spun Silver Brumby novels by Elyne Mitchell.

That is the fauna. Then we come to odd bod flora like the talking tree-like creatures scattered throughout much folklore. The most well-known to me is from Lord of the Rings, where Tolkien creates the characters of the Ent, tree-like creatures who are long-suffering and ancient shepherds of the forest. The long-suffering erupts into explosive rage when Saruman and his army of Orcs lays siege on their kin, the forest trees. The ensuing battle is as much about the survival of the forest as it is about confronting the evils of Mordor. Commentators speculate that Tolkien created the Ent and their surprising, deliberate triumph to vent his concern at the commercially driven destruction of his beloved English countryside.

You can probably think of countless other techniques designed to shift the spotlight away from human achievement to the needs of the earth and all its creatures.

What would your movie be?


Our Bits and Pieces Outlook
We each have parts of our world – flora and fauna – that we feel an affinity with and want to protect. As grounded humans, we only have the chance to experience bits and pieces of the earth. What if we went deeper and thought even more profoundly of earth as a whole? But as ecologists continually remind us, the earth is far more than the sum of its parts! There are many interconnecting relationships that often go unnoticed, even with the great slow motion, deep water or close-range film work of David Attenborough and company. For those who have travelled in outer space, they have the breath-taking, mind-numbing experience of observing the earth in its entirety, with what is commonly described as the ‘overview effect’. How might we, from our grounded and piecemeal vantage point, cherish this earth which we describe as God’s creation? What if we found ways to place the earth as the main character, at centre stage of our existence? In block buster movies we often look for the character with noble attributes, the one who perseveres through suffering, is self-sacrificial and a generous giver. The earth epitomizes all such qualities.
Our Stories
If we belong to a faith tradition that values the Hebrew scriptures, we have a living blockbuster story at our fingertips. Genesis 1:1-25 is known as the priestly account of creation, with its liturgical repetition of ‘And God said,’ and ‘God saw it was good.’ I’ve come to think of earth as the central character in this story from Genesis. Many movements and textures come to us in the story – darkness and light, water and dry, chaos and order, an implosion and explosion of colour! Matthew Fox, in Creation Spirituality, asks, ‘What does a creation story do for us?’ Indeed, what does this ancient story do for us today? As it served the ancient Hebrews long ago, so too can it address our innate human curiosity about origins and offer a meaning and purpose in uncertain times. And beyond this, creation stories across all cultures and peoples have deep potential to awaken awe and wonder that we are here.
That we are here.
Now  here.
Still  here.
Fleetingly  here.
We know that the waves of this story flow through our poetry, our philosophy, our religious imaginations, and deepest theologies. And we are, through this story from Genesis, reminded that our human experience can never be separated from the history of our planet.

Earth at Centre Stage

We have many opportunities to put earth on centre stage. How many chances do we need? I wonder if anything will change if the International Criminal Court declares ecocide a new international crime, as has been recently debated? What would the earth look like if we humans were not continually barging onto earth’s stage and interfering with every scene? Midway through last year I had an uncanny glimpse of what that might look like. At the Lake Macquarie Museum of Art and Culture, one exhibition featured a photo loop of Charlestown over several months – starting in the wake of bush fires through to July when the skies had cleared to a pristine blue. It seemed that the earth was brighter and more alive as much of human travel and tread came to a standstill during the first wave of pandemic.


We are the Earth’s

So, what can each of us do to reinstate the earth to centre stage? I’m not suggesting here that we disappear from the galactic movie set and wait passively in the face of the gaping wounds left from our environmental wrecking balls. We do, after all, share the galactic stage with earth, and we are not called to be silent props or passive backdrops to the action. There are many things we can do as a community and as individuals to celebrate and re-centre the earth as it deserves and was intended. Our faith communities have taken many creative and diverse approaches to engaging we humans into a more ‘eco-centric’ mode of thinking and living. My own faith tradition, the Uniting Church, has provided a constant stream of consciousness and aspiration to truly live out our 1977 Statement to the Nation, including the Uniting Climate Action Network, launched in June 2021 and involvement in the annual School Strike 4 Climate events. There are lots of ideas coming down the proverbial pipeline!

At the level of daily experience there is a growing proliferation of practices which can slip into the rhythm of our lives, individually or communally. During the 2019 Tertiary Campus Ministry Association Conference, my Moslem Chaplaincy colleague and I collaborated on an interfaith devotional. We drew on our cherished commonality of wonder and gratitude for the earth, and so chose readings from our respective sacred scriptures that honoured God as Creator.

Another opportunity for me to live out the experience of putting earth at centre stage came when my brother invited me to craft some original sayings on birds, flight, and freedom to accompany regular inspirational videos. I devised fourteen sayings and felt very satisfied! Then he asked for thirty-eight more sayings so they could feature in a week-based journal. How on earth would I come up with that many?! However, after a while they flowed effortlessly, and I realised how much wisdom could be generated by letting the earth and its creatures speak to me.

A further practice is enjoyment of the writings, artwork or music of spiritual guides from the recent and distant past. This can help us to access a deep wonder which can make the most ordinary moments of the day gleam with potential. Thomas Merton started and finished his days with this curiosity and readiness to wonder. Here is a one of his inspiring pieces:


New Seeds of Contemplation

The pale flowers of the dogwood outside
this window are saints.
The little yellow flowers that nobody
notices on the edge of the road are
saints looking up into the face of God.
This leaf has its own texture and its own
pattern of veins and its own holy shape,
and the bass and trout hiding in the
deep pools of the river are canonized by
their beauty and their strength.
The lakes hidden among the hills are saints,
And the sea too is a saint who praises
God without interruption in her
majestic dance.
The great, gashed, half-naked mountain
is another of God’s saints.
There is no other like him.
He is alone in his own character;
Nothing else in the world ever did or ever
will imitate God in quite the same way.
That is his sanctity.
But what about you? What about me?


Jesus in our Earth



As people of faith who are guided by Jesus, we can experience him as a companion who walked the precious earth, sharing its centre stage as he lived among us embodying the love and compassion of God. He existed in the world and taught with the earth as a significant reference point; he did this with simple ease as he looked about the fields, felt the wind on his face and looked into the eyes of his sisters and brothers.

As we live with our suffering and loving on the ever-generous sanctuary of this earth, with its infinitely varied sunrise and sunset, let us walk with Jesus into the mysteries, colour, and unknowns of each new day.


Kim Langford is the UCA Chaplain at Newcastle University and Margaret Jurd College, Lay Preacher, and Professional Supervisor. For replenishment, she reads/writes fiction, plays music, and roams around beautiful Lake Macquarie.


EREMOS Magazine No. 154 [April 2022] is out now.

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labryrinth at Campfire


by Susanna Pain

This is a slighter shorter version of an article in EREMOS 150, December 2020.

To see the editorial and contents of EREMOS 150, December 2020 click here.

Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground. Exodus 3:5

Surely all ground is holy? Why this ground in particular? Isn’t it possible that God is present in all places; it’s just that we don’t always notice? We come from the earth and to the earth we return. Nothing is lost. Our biblical heritage names us Adamah, earthlings from the red earth.

Today, I acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land where I am, the Braiakaulung Clan of the Gunai Kurnai Nation, whose territory occupies most of present-day Gippsland and much of the southern slopes of the Victorian Alps. The Gunai Kurnai launched a native title claim in 1997 following in response to the successful Mabo native title case of 1992. On 22 October 2010, the case was settled in the Federal Court under the Native Title Act (1993). The Court recognised the Gunai Kurnai as traditional owners, finding they held native title over much of Gippsland. Based on these findings, the Victorian Government entered into an agreement with the Gunai Kurnai on the same day, the first agreement reached under the Traditional Owner Settlement Act (2010), with ten national parks and reserves transferred to the Gunai Kurnai, to be jointly managed with the State. (ref: viewed 27 August 2020)

Take off your shoes, you’re standing on Holy Ground.

Aboriginal people have always known this.

Arrernte Aboriginal Elder from Central Australia, Margaret Kemarre Turner, OAM, writes:

The story is the Land, and the Land is the Story. The Story holds the people, and the people live inside the Story. The story lives inside the people, and the Land lives inside the people also. It goes all ways to hold the Land...

Apmereyanhe, our language-Land, is like a root or a tie to us. It holds all of us. The only way that we can translate into English how we see our relationship with the Land is with the words ‘hold’, and ‘connect’. The roots of the country and its people are twined together. We are part of the Land.... The Land is us, and we are the Land. That’s how we hold our Land...

(Margaret Kemarre Turner, Iwenhe Tyerrtye, What it means to be an Aboriginal person, (IAD Press, Alice Springs, 2010), 20, 33)

I wonder what land you belong to? What or where is your country? Wherever you are is holy ground and God speaks to us from wherever we are.

Each year I lead a five-day retreat at Campfire in the Heart near Alice Springs in Central Australia, (their labyrinth is pictured above) where we pray, listen to reflections and spend time in the landscape. The journey of the week’s retreat is to be open to encounter with the divine on the land.  tree and canyon Centre

Central Australia brings me to silence. It is a vast arid open place with its orange sand and rivers flowing underground. I think of Moses out there in rough desert lands, tending his sheep, having grown used to the landscape after many years in exile, now with wives and children. Out in the bush alone, what was he thinking? Obviously dreaming, remembering home and his people in Egypt where he had been born, rescued and adopted into a royal home, before pining for his blood people, and murdering in his enthusiasm and adolescent anger, then fleeing, escaping, running.

And here he is, in the desert. A vision pulls him up short. Take off your shoes, you’re standing on holy ground. A burning bush, un-consumed … then an unimaginable conversation, a call to go back, a call to understand his identity. I sometimes think it takes time in places like this to open up to the freshness of new life, to be surprised.

My growing up land was Canberra, with the blue purple Brindabella mountains in the distance, a river plain surrounded by mountains. Here in Sale, however, it’s flat and there’s a lot of water here. It has been a gathering place for First Nations peoples. It is also a massacre site.  

June scene from SaleI am fortunate that during stage three lockdowns in Victoria, I am still able to walk around the lakes in Sale. I’m able to walk on the lands of the Gunai Kurnai people, and savour the beauty of this place. I have watched as the light changes, as the seasons shift, as the wattle begins to bloom and the birds start their mating. I am delighted to stand on this holy ground.

Shared experiences

A few weekends ago I led a quiet afternoon of prayer via zoom. Participants joined in from around the nation. They listened to a short reflection, watched a visual reflection and then spent time alone praying, walking, journaling, being present to the book of creation.

After an hour or so we got together again to share our experiences and to pray. On this strange forum people shared in small groups, in breakout rooms, their joys and their sorrows. Then they re-joined the larger group and again shared some experience in the chat function enabled by the Internet.

People’s comments included:

  • This was nourishment for my soul; we live on borrowed land;
  • peace; a greater sense of my connection with God in creation;
  • the simplicity of the small;
  • a seed must be smothered to grow, perhaps we in Melbourne are being smothered so we can grow;
  • looking at things in a different way, the lorikeets more interesting, the jasmine smells better, the joy of God’s creation; appreciate the nurturing this land has received and yearning to nurture and nourish it more.
  • Really appreciated listening to the insights of others at this time of confusion, the awareness of being born on Wiradjuri country and being in my spiritual home;
  • Stillness and quiet; Need to recognise and honour the sense of unity between all things all a part of God’s plan and open the shutters; Life is seasonal and even though it is winter

One person wrote, a month later:

  • It was a healing balm and I appreciated your welcoming spirit. I was in such a hole at the time I was stunned into inactivity. But I have been looking at a gospel in every leaf, flower and bird ever since. This has been helpful during this hideous Melbourne lock-down.

Rachel Naomi Remen in, ‘My Grandfather’s blessings’, writes:

Days pass and the years vanish and we walk sightless among miracles. Lord, fill our eyes with seeing and our minds with knowing. Let there be moments when your presence, like lightning, illumines the darkness in which we walk. Help us to see, where ever we gaze, that the bush burns, unconsumed. And we, clay touched by God, will reach out for holiness and exclaim in wonder, “how filled with awe is this place and we did not know it.

So what does all this have to say to us in this COVID time?

The ground on which you are standing is Holy ground, the place where you are is sacred space. God is here and 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. To turn aside and listen, and engage in a conversation. God is calling you home, calling you to be at home, to speak God’s truth, to speak God’s love, to challenge injustice. God is active and alive in our time inviting us out of our sluggish foggy brains and frustrated body spirits to serve God in love and peace. And Jesus is inviting us to do the hard yards, to face the suffering of God‘s people everywhere around the world, to listen and to respond.

Take off your shoes, you are standing on holy ground.

susanna embracing the worldSusanna Pain is the Dean, of Anglican Diocese of Gippsland. She was one of the first women to be ordained in the Anglican church of Australia. This reflection was originally delivered as part of a quiet afternoon of prayer in August 2020Lake winter Sale

Survival Day


Australia Day and the Voice of Australia’s First Peoples

By Digby Hannah

Published in the April 2020 EREMOS Magazine.

Australia Day has come and gone. We have witnessed much enthusiastic celebration of our nation’s outstanding achievements and of our wonderfully inclusive culture. We have been visited by citizen ceremonies all over the country. We have seen the pomp and ceremony of the Australian of the Year awards. More than 800 Australians who excelled in their fields have been awarded2020 Australian Day Honours. However, there has also been vigorous protest. The Survival Day marches in our capital cities have reminded us of our history’s dark side. Not everyone in Australia feels uplifted by the recollection of the arrival in Port Jackson of Arthur Phillip and the first fleet on January 26, 1788. 

As Australia Day approached this year, the debates became more vitriolic and divisive. Many Australians reacted with self-righteous antagonism towards those minorities who would dampen the party of unfettered celebration. An uncompromising video published by the Institute of Public Affairs was one such example. This reaction is surely evidence that the ‘great Australian silence’ or ‘cult of forgetfulness’, referred to by anthropologist WEH Stanner, is alive and well despite the passing of 50 years since his 1968 Boyer Lectures, After the Dreaming, in which he observed:

… inattention on such a scale cannot possibly be explained by absent-mindedness. It is a structural matter, a view from a window that has been carefully placed to exclude a whole quadrant of the landscape. What may well have begun as a simple forgetting of other possible views turned under habit and over time into something like a cult of forgetfulness practised on a national scale. We have been able for so long to disremember the Aborigines that we are now hard put to keep them in mind even when we most want to do so.

So much of the story surrounding the European settlement of this country remains untold and unrecognised. Yet without the nation’s acknowledgement of the true story - the brutality, the usurping of land, the taking of children - reconciliation will not be possible. Paul Keating in his famous Redfern speech of 10 December, 1992 was forthright:

We took the traditional lands and smashed the traditional way of life. 
We brought the diseases. The alcohol. We committed the murders. 
We took the children from their mothers. 
We practised discrimination and exclusion. 
It was our ignorance and our prejudice … 
We failed to ask - how would I feel if this were done to me? 
As a consequence, we failed to see that what we were doing degraded all of us.1

But there are small signs that the great Australian silence is beginning to break. The many thousands of people, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous who are now joining Survival Day marches is one such sign. As Australia Day fell on a Sunday this year, at least some churches chose to lament rather than celebrate the history of our country. Another sign of hope on Australia Day this year could be found both in the City of Port Phillip in Melbourne’s St Kilda and in the City of Ballarat in regional Victoria. Both local councils, for the first time, held what they called a ‘Morning of Mourning’. These events occurred at daybreak on January 26 and drew attention to elements of local history rarely spoken about. In Ballarat over 1000 people attended the gathering on the shores of Lake Wendouree, which commenced with the solemn naming of more than 50 sites of massacres and murders which resulted in hundreds of Aboriginal deaths in the vicinity of Ballarat and throughout Victoria during the 1840s. 

Several Indigenous speakers drew attention to the grief and frustration they feel about Australia Day. Elder, Auntie Faye Clark explained: 

Certainly we can appreciate the wonderful things about Australia that ought to be celebrated, but how can people celebrate a land that was stolen, the people who were systematically killed, oppressed, and disadvantaged to this day, and a system that favours whiteness and continues to misunderstand everything about us?2

Curiously the very name, Lake Wendouree, was itself a reminder of stolen land. In 1838, without so much as a thought for the traditional Wadawurrung owners, pastoralist William Yuille claimedrightful ownership of 10,000 acres of country adjacent to a large swamp.He presumptuously named it Yuille Swamp. Sometime later he asked an Aboriginal woman what was her people’s name for the swamp. ‘Wendaaree,’ she replied and so the new name was adopted. Little did he know the term he chose meant ‘Go away, be off with you!’ Today ‘Lake Be-off-with-you’ is a tourist attraction and pride of this thriving regional city.

The Morning of Mourning at St Kilda was a similarly solemn and moving event. The backdrop this time was Port Phillip Bay, known as Naarm by the local Boon Wurrung people. Participants listened to several poignant and heart-breaking readings taken from the Aboriginal history of the area – stories virtually unknown within the local St Kilda community. In those very early days of settlement, how futile were the attempts of intelligent and impressive leaders of the Boon Wurrung people to negotiate a compromise with the intruders. How quickly the hopes they nurtured turned to despair and degradation. Aboriginal artists performed. Interfaith members of the Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities contributed. These were respectful and appropriate, though some present thought they detected hints of the unfortunate colonialist sentiment that ultimate truth still resides within the Christian tradition.

There may well have been other public gatherings of lament occurring this year on Australia Day. I feel confident the idea will spread across the country and open new opportunities for the voice of First Peoples to be heard. 

The idea of a Day of Mourning can be traced to January 26, 1938 and to the influence of a man by the name of William Cooper. Cooper and his friends chose the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the first fleet as a symbolic moment to recognize the consequences of this moment in history for the First Peoples of this land. They helped organize a rally in Sydney, on this day, which they described as the Day of Mourning. 

I sometimes imagine Australia as having a soul – and maybe it does. If so, our country’s national soul is stained and infected. We cannot deal with the tragedies of the past by pleading ignorance, denying what really happened and hoping some more government grants will help ‘close the gap’. I continue to place faith in a timeless and gracious God always willing us to make a fresh start. The fresh start for this country must begin with an acknowledgement, a lament and preparedness to work towards reparation and healing, whatever it costs.

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Digby Hannah is a community worker, musician and author and presently spends quite some time caring for two delightful grandchildren. He has recently been a regular contributor to EREMOS magazine. 




1 accessed at

2 The Courier, 26 January 2020, Alex Ford, Ballarat’s Survival Day Dawn Ceremony, accessed at



Being Church: Thinking Outside of the Box

By Linda Chapman



This is a slighter shorter version of an article in EREMOS 146, August 2019. EREMOS editor, Frances MacKay, invited Linda to write about these communities which Frances describes as ‘committed to traditional Christian roots while seeking contemporary expression relating to issues of renewal, inclusion and ecology’. Finding deep resonance with the vision for Eremos, we are pleased to share this inspiring story.  


Linda’s story

Laurence Freeman, Director of the World Community for Christian Meditation,in a short article called ‘The Contemplative Parish’, suggests that ‘parishes fulfil many functions and are a defining sign of Christianity’s witness to the world of its inner life and faith’.


Yet if we are to remain engaged with the world, we need to continue to evolve how we witness to, and live our faith. As Laurence goes on to suggest, the viable and attractive parish of the future will find the middle way between outer activity and the inner life of prayer and contemplation.  


My work in the Parish of Moruya on the far south coast of NSW over the last 8 years has been about growing our relationship with the broader community in various ways. This hasn’t been so much an intentional strategy as a natural, somewhat organic outworking of the call and desire to serve the community and to engage with the broader community.


I have never been one for set programs and strategies. And when I came to the parish of Moruya it was out of a background of having declared I would never be the rector of a parish, because I dreaded falling into an over-active mode of clericalism fuelled by the belief that all parish life depends on – or must be funnelled through –the clergy person. I had founded Open Sanctuary at Tilba in 2006 as a little place of simplicity and poverty, housed in a small timber church at the foot of the sacred Gulaga mountain at Tilba Tilba, offering an alternative to more conventional ways of being church. It is a place where silence is our first language.  Yet now I now found myself in a traditional middle-way Anglican Parish not really thinking that I would stay. So, I came to parish life probably relatively unencumbered by big expectations of what might happen and I entered the work in a spirit of ‘let’s see what can happen’. 


My passions are contemplation and action for justice. And I found myself in a congregation of people who were open to these whilst remaining very grounded in the traditional expression of church. And so we began a journey together. I drew a dreaming tree, and from that tree seeds have taken root so that we now have a centre of activity, a place of social inclusion and service, and a growing understanding of the contemplative way of Christianity within the established congregation.


I don’t think there is anything particularly special or unique about our parish; however, we have managed to become a place that is known for inclusion. I haven’t followed a strategic direction. We didn’t start out with a plan, but simply held open the space for life to emerge – a bit likethose Celtic monks who set out in small boats (coracles) to go where the wind of the Spirit would take them – to find the place of resurrection.  


Some years ago when the issue of refugees on Manus and Nauru first arose I had the thought of painting the doors of the hall red as churches had done over the years to signify a place of sanctuary. We now have a place where people,for instance those who live in the local caravan park, or in their van, can come and get a feed, sing in our Slightly Bent Choir, take a small role in our theatre company and find themselves accepted. Our community lunch, which is now bursting at the seams, is a place where people from all walks of life, from local councillors to the homeless, sit together to have a feed and a yarn. It is a place where our local refugee action group have found a home; where musicians have a space to play for themselves and others; where our prolific vegie garden is available for all; and where on Sunday mornings we gather for our Eucharistic service as the Church has done for well over 120 years. My place in this has been to pick up the threads of what emerges organically when we are open to relationships; when we are able to take risks; when we live our faith outside of the box.I don’t see us offering a service so much as being within the community that already exists and moving into relationship with others within and beyond the Parish. 


As the Irish philosopher, Richard Kearney, suggests, when we become hosts for the Stranger, when we decide for the stranger, our hospitality, our welcoming of the Stranger ‘opens up the promise of life, an epiphany of the Divine’. We become ‘guests to renewed life, precisely in and through the encounter with the Stranger’ (cited in John Burkey's review of Kearney’s Anatheism: Returning to God after God, 2010). In this way we are all both host and guest.


At St John’s we have welcomed the Stranger and they now welcome us. We have held vigils and rung the church bell for refugees and climate action. Activists within our broader community trust that they can come for a ritual as simple as lighting candles and giving voice to lament and solidarity with the suffering of the world without having to sign up to a belief system.


At the same time we have slowly introduced the contemplative aspects of Christianity into the parish. As Laurence Freeman says:


The contemplative parish is a place where a deeper and broader knowledge of Christ can be allowed to flourish. The fruits of this will benefit all within it and in contact with it. If contemplation, as Aquinas said, is only the ‘simple enjoyment of the truth’, what is to prevent this ideal from being realized in every parish?(op.cit.)


I am convinced of the need for a spiritual practice that grounds and stabilises our action in and for the world. Christian Meditation and Centring Prayer are practices of the church that find their roots in ancient times and yet are entirely relevant, even essential, for our context. People today don’t want to be told what to believe. Silence is trustworthy and to sit in silence, in prayer, with others may be one of the pre-eminent ways of being the community of church. And a contemplative practice or orientation helps us remain in the tension of the competing fears and anxieties and aspirations of the world, those within ourselves and others and to somehow pull threads together. We are more able to hear our own and others’ anxiety without allowing that anxiety to derail life, the life that is emerging in our midst – including life that can seem messy, and at timeschaotic.  Through contemplative practice we are able to remain present to the messiness in some equilibrium, holding it and allowing Love/God to loosen the knots so that healing and redemption might come about.


In the parish we nurture the Christian contemplative way for both adults and children through our Christian Meditation group, Growing Still and Still Waters groups for children and adults. Presently we are making our way through ‘The Roots of Christian Mysticism’ course.


So, St John’s Moruya is a place where our feet are planted firmly in tradition; yet from that tradition we are open to what, perhaps, could be one way of resurrection for the church. I don’t know because we’re not there yet! And it may be a very bold claim! But I do think that unless we have ‘courage running thick through our veins’, unless we are prepared to risk and to trust, then the church will fall further into demise. The old is falling away –and not only in the church.But if we can seek the wisdom to know what to bring with us into a potentially resurrected way and allow our little boat to be propelled by the Spirit then we needn’t fret.


For more information about St John’s Moruya and Open Sanctuary Tilba see their websites: and


“The Easter narrative is a powerful reminder of what happens when justice and compassion confront power structures.”    --Richard Browning

This article is from EREMOS April 2019. Eremos Members are able to access this online by logging in. See the Membership page on how to become an Eremos member.

What is the story around the medical evacuation bill? Is it about responsibility to sick people, a basic human rights issue, or weakening border protection? Or is it about something else?

It probably depends who you ask.

From a human rights perspective, people who have done no wrong and are not convicted of any crime are being made dangerously ill by their enforced restriction on a foreign island.Yet those with a political agenda tell a different story about boats and Nauru. Why else assert that doctors who are naturally compassionate might be colluding with each other to release detainees? What is to be gained by telling the story this way? Another way of telling that same story is not about collusion but diagnosis. Isn’t it possible that medical practitioners who are trained to assess presenting symptoms come toshare a diagnosis, and based on that diagnosis, make a recommendation?

Sadly, compassion is contested wherever it challenges other stories, especially where there are vested interests.

Yet compassion is one of God’s names and compassion is at the heart of all major religions. Christians believe that Jesus is God’s full-bodied compassionate presence, God’s radical love engaging the living, historical, political moment. How does this happen? The following words of Jesus give this ‘vision’ its strategy: ‘love your enemy; do not judge or condemn; give; bless when cursed; forgive and you will be forgiven.’

By aligning ourselves with this radical vision, compassion increasingly becomes our way of being in the world. The way of compassion is subversive in that it challenges the dominant story and questions the dominant power structures. The way of compassion refuses to strengthen borders through silly ‘either/or’ dichotomies, and neuters ‘us and them’ conflicts. Instead, compassion, whatever the context, seeks to find a way together, across differences, objections, fear and resistance through dialogue, reconciliation, peace-making, justice.

The Easter narrative is a powerful reminder of what happens when justice and compassion confront power structures. Perhaps we need to ask ourselves to what extent we are walking this path – living this narrative – in our engagement with others at local and international levels. Or are we colluding with other dominant narratives in our culture that are less about justice and compassion and more about something else? It is interesting that if we quietly seek to relieve compassion we are deemed saints, but if we challenge the injustice of power structures we are deemed terrorists.

Rev Richard Browning is an Anglican priest and the chaplain of Radford College, Canberra.


Anne Deane interviews visual artist, Emel Jurd about Emel’s passions for painting and caring for others.

Gratitude, Emel Jurd, 2016. Charcoal and acrylic on fabric.
This article was written  by Anne Deane for the March 2017 issue of EREMOS

My first encounter with Emel Jurd’s paintings was at her exhibition: ‘Beneath the Surface’ in Glebe, Sydney, August 2015. I was drawn by the vibrant images of women’s heads entwined with trees and vines. I found something quite bold and interior in her work, yet somehow full of life, lightness and playfulness.

When I heard that Emel was holding an exhibition with a colleague (Lynore Avery) in Rozelle, Sydney, in November 2016 and that it was called ‘Immanence: Manifestations of the Divine in Everyday Life’, my curiosity was again sparked, so I went exploring. In this exhibition I was drawn again by deep, vibrant coloured female faces once again entwined in vines. After my initial encounter with each painting, I noticed small glimpses of lace-like fabric patterns hidden in the background and wondered about the meaning in this.

I was keen to hear how Emel might talk about what inspires her work, despite the images carrying their own meaning without words. As we talked I found a rich story emerging from Emel’s twin passions for creating while also doing her bit to care for others.

What inspired your exhibition ‘Beneath the Surface?’

’Beneath the Surface’ emerged as I was recovering from a broken foot. I spent a lot of time looking out on the ‘triffid’ vines in my neighbour’s veggie patch. As I reflected on life, I was struck by the isolation and sadness in human beings when we are disconnected from nature, each other and the broader universe. We rely on each other and the natural world for our existence, yet we often fail to connect. Life is not about the shiny surface that many project. It’s about what’s beneath. It’s about our stories. It’s about being privy to people’s stories. Nothing is what it seems. If there’s a message in the paintings, it’s: ‘Take a moment to pause and go beneath the surface and layers and meet the individuals.’

So, what inspired the title of your second exhibition?

“’Immanence’ came to me while I was working on ‘Beneath the Surface’. I sensed something brewing – something about the spiritual concept of connection of all of us and nature, and how nature and human beings blossom. I wanted to give a practical sense of the divine energy and wisdom that I believe runs in and through all of us. It exists in everything. It gives life to the intricate and infinite designs of the universe that connect us all – to nature and each other. It’s the fabric of our uniqueness; hence the pieces of fabric echoed in the paintings. I channel this appreciation directly into art.

I believe that all natural creations are expressions of a divine energy creating aspects of itself. That divine energy exists in each of our moments – in the small gifts with sorrow and loss, in moments of not knowing and in our moments of joy. Each painting draws the viewer in through colour, pattern, lines and impact. Each work, just as each day, has a layered depth to be discovered, explored and hopefully, delighted in. My hope is that it speaks to people and heals them. It’s about planting seeds in infinite combinations through art.”

Have you always painted?

“My earliest memories are of me drawing. It was always very alive for me. I completed a Degree in Visual Arts at Sydney College of the Arts, focusing on ceramic sculpture and jewellery design. I ran my own jewellery design business for 13 years but in 2000 I returned to my work with clay. I’ve had a life-long passion for the healing and educational opportunities creativity can provide. So I began using ceramic making and mural creation as a focus point for working with disadvantaged children, youth and adults. I guess it’s these experiences as well as my own life experience that have led me to reflect in my painting on our interconnectedness with each other and with the divine.

What creative projects you have undertaken with people experiencing disadvantage?

“I’ve designed and led programs with a wide range of clients: homeless women and children, young mums, women struggling with domestic violence or post natal depression, young women experiencing anxiety and depression, newly arrived migrants, young people trying to deal with bullying and elderly people reflecting on their lives. Many of my projects have been teaching clients how to make ceramic tiles with clay, fire them, glaze them and transport them to the site where they help construct a mural.

I see art as an active meditation, focusing on one point while thoughts come and go. I find that working together with clients on art projects gives us a shared focus. Making the ceramic pieces help them externalise what’s going on inside them and normalise their experience as they share their stories. It holds clients in a peaceful space that can be less confronting and scary than face-to-face talking. It helps reduce hyper-vigilance – a feature of much trauma. In the space of creating together, clients can share experiences and suggestions about how to deal with difficult issues.  Some gain strength to leave unhealthy relationships. It’s a space where I can refer people to agencies and support services that they might otherwise not know about.”

Are the murals you’ve created with your clients available for the public to see?

“Yes. They’re all in Sydney. There’s one on the wall of the Leichhardt Women’s Community Health Centre, and others at the Belmore Youth Resource Centre and Lakemba Child and Family Support Services and Campsie Women’s Rest Centre.“

So, your art has had you very involved in contributing to healthy communities?

“Visual art can be seen by some as self-indulgent. I am fortunate to have chosen to pursue two of my greatest passions in life: creating - and doing my bit in caring for others.”

Emel was awarded second place in the 2015 Pyrmont Art Prize.  Her work can be viewed at and on her instagram account: @emeljurd. In addition to her art and as part of her community work as Team Leader of a Child Youth and Family Support Team, Emel started a radio program in four languages, providing information and resources to migrants and people experiencing disadvantage. She has also sung in bands.

Anne Deane was an Eremos Council member from 2013 to 2016 and loves to discover the uniqueness, creativity and life in others’ spiritual expression and exploration.

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The December edition of EREMOS magazine is devoted to papers arising from the Edge of the Sacred Conference Exiled from Country: Deep Listening to the Spirit of Place, held in Alice Springs, July 21-24, 2016


Image of white gums in Alice Springs Copyright Bill Pheasant, 2016

The December edition of EREMOS magazine is devoted to papers arising from the Edge of the Sacred Conference, Exiled from Country: Deep Listening to the Spirit of Place, held in Alice Springs, July 21-24, 2016.

Consequently all featured articles cross similar territory and, as editor Frances Mackay notes, all acknowledge the value of dadirri, or deep listening. MacKay says, “Dadirri is a gift, not a commodity we can appropriate. For these writers it has been an invitation to mutuality, respect and further reflection on their own tradition.”

David Tacey in “The Aboriginal Gift We Will Not Receive” writes how Aboriginal elders in remote communities of Australia sometimes say they have a gift they would like to give to settler, immigrant and all non-indigenous Australians.

“Aboriginal cultures speak to us from a life-world we can barely comprehend, due to secularisation and modernisation … The call of the elders to accept their gift is not only a call to reconciliation and peace, but also a call to return to the sacred bond with creation from which we have departed.”

Aboriginal elders, he says, believe that the non-indigenous are in denial of their need for a spiritual belonging to place. “They can see we don’t have it, and they want to show us how to develop it.”

Tacey quotes David Mowaljarlai: What we see is, all the white people that were born in this country and they are missing the things that came from us mob, and we want to try and share it.

Tacey says, “We can’t just generate cultural reconciliation because we think it’s a good idea. There is something that has to be let go of at a deep level, before we can be renewed. Our alienation from nature and the sacred has to be overcome before we can move on.”

Emily Hayes quotes Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr: We have learned to speak the white man's language. We have listened to what he had to say. This learning and listening should go both ways. We would like people in Australia to take time to listen to us. We are hoping people will come closer.

Hayes reflects, “I do not think we as a culture are very good at being present, at listening and waiting. We are always in a hurry to get to the next thing and we tend to fill every moment that we do have to wait with technology. Our Aboriginal brothers and sisters have much to teach us about these things.”

She says, “It is my deepest prayer that we will become present, that we will turn from fear and that we will wait. Wait and listen. Wait for, and with each other and wait on our God.”

In “Fenced in, Fenced Out” Glenn Loughrey explores Aboriginality, the experience of exile and exile as the means to transcendence.

Exile may be the place of separation and no belonging but it also offers possibilities, he says.

Nicholas Coleman, in “Dadirri: Deep Listening to the Spirit of Place”, writes about Whitefellas typically seeing the universe in terms of separation and exile, rather than connection and oneness.

“The Aboriginal gift of dadirri reminds us that everybody has the innate capacity to respond to the divine life that connects us to everyone, everything and to God.”

A similar idea is conveyed in Tacey’s piece: “[Aboriginal Elders] understand that we do not have roots in this country, and want to help us grow them. Aboriginal people do not think we have departed so radically from the human condition that we have no need of spiritual connections to place. What they want to share with us is that we, and all beings, are not isolated fragments in a cold, unfeeling world, but we are part of the universe and need to restore our bond to creation.”

For Sarah Bachelard the journey to maturity, the spiritual journey, is about the movement from separateness towards at-onement. “Without this reconciliation and reconnection, we remain trapped — both humanly and individually — at a dualistic level of consciousness.”

Her preliminary thoughts about what the practice of deep listening requires of us include poverty of spirit, the willingness and deepening capacity to pay attention to what is not me, and responsibility or answerability.

EREMOS Magazine No. 137 [December 2016] is out now. To access this issue Become a Member or contact for more information.


"I had more or less decided to quit my job and press the reset button on my life..." Tristan Guzman reflects on journeying with grief and his experiences walking the Camino de Santiago.

Entering the Meseta, the section between Burgos and Leon (photograph by the author)

I had never really fancied myself as a pilgrim. The thought of taking a ten-kilogram pack to tramp across Spain on a pilgrim’s path that has been walked for the better part of the last 2000 years was something which, up until 2012, had never crossed my mind.

It was certainly furthest from my mind a year-and-half before I did the walk. Back then, I was sitting in a lonely hospital hall running on empty. In a nearby room, my mother was lying in a coma. She did not have long to live.

She was the latest in a long string of deaths of close loved ones in my life, including my father and several grandparents. As a soon-to-be orphan of 26 years old, I tried not to see myself as a victim of circumstance. How someone can go from checking in to a hospital with constipation to succumbing to a perforated bowel and excessive brain damage was beyond me.

I just had to deal with the situation, one step at a time, one day at a time.

It was this collective grief, brought to a head by my mother’s passing, which was the catalyst that ultimately led me to St Jean Pied de Port in September 2012. It’s a quaint, medieval town in France nestled in the foothills of the Pyrenees. It’s also the traditional start of the Camino Frances, one of the pilgrimage paths along the Camino de Santiago (The Way of Saint James) in Spain. I had first heard of the Camino through the Christian Meditation group I had joined in Easter 2012.

At this stage I had more or less decided to quit my job and press the reset button on my life. I spent the next six months in Europe with my mother’s side of the family, travelling and just being with nature. The Camino was the last in a series of walks I did from May through to September that year.

It was the jewel in the crown, and reflective of a much larger pilgrimage for me: my journey with bereavement.

The other walks included an organised expedition of the Larapinta Trail in Central Australia just prior to going to Europe. A few months later, I trekked through the Norwegian Alps with a 23kg pack on my back for five nights with my step-uncle, his wife and their dog.

While away I also bagged a few Scottish Munros and walked The West Highland Way, which is a rugged 155km walk through some of the most beautiful parts of Scotland including Loch Lomond and Rannoch Moor. I finished that walk in late August, and ten days later I set out on the Camino – six weeks and 900 kilometres if you count the additional walk from Santiago to the coast at Cape Finisterre.

When I calculated the distance of all the walking I did, it literally was a journey of a thousand miles that began with a single step. Like many others I met on pilgrimage, it was a first step that was taken well before my initial day on The Way. Which leads to one of the challenges of writing a story like this: what to include?

Pilgrimage is not just about the act itself. It’s the life experience tied to that act before, during and after the walk.

It is the journey in the evolution of consciousness, and that growing recognition of our deep interconnectedness amongst each other and with this world – the seen and the unseen.

There were so many markers that something greater, an unseen force, was guiding me along in a gentle, supportive way during this time of my life.

I remember just after I had decided to walk the Camino, I went to pick up my pilgrim’s passport from the Confraternity of Saint James in London. I did not check beforehand whether the place would be open or not, but as it turned out, it was only open on a Thursday – the day I knocked on the door.

The woman who answered, and registered me with the confraternity, had the same name as my mother – Ruth. It was a meaningful start to my pilgrimage. But the associations didn’t end there.

After I picked up my pilgrim’s passport I decided to visit the Tate Modern. I got caught up in a piece of performance art in the main hallway, an expansive concrete space with a huge ramp.

The piece was called ‘These Associations’. In essence it was a large group of people walking up the main ramp incredibly slowly, increasing in speed as time progressed. While observing this I thought to myself, ‘Why not? I’ve just picked up my pilgrim’s passport to go on an incredibly long walk, I might as well do some mindful walking while I’m here.’ Part of the performance art included artists in the crowd approaching different people and sharing a memory.

Two people approached me at separate times to talk. It was the second person who shared his story that left me with tingles running down my spine. He told me how his mother used to pop him on the train to go to school by himself when he was only five years old. She trusted that the community would look after him on his way. I turned to him and remarked that I had just come from picking up my pilgrim’s passport to walk the Camino. The decision to walk being that my mother had recently passed.

The man smiled at me and said that his mother had passed away back in his early 20s, but one of the lessons in life she had left him with was that we are never alone.

There will always be someone to come and help you when you need it.

With that we held each other’s gaze for a moment acknowledging the change this realisation could make. Feeling alone was something I had felt often. I then asked him for his name. He just smiled and said, ‘These Associations’ before melting back into the crowd.

‘These Associations’ continued all throughout the Camino. I remember on my first day of walking meeting James and Dee, a lovely American couple, perhaps in their late 40s or early 50s. We only ever saw each other this one time on the entire walk. But it’s one of the conversations I remember well.

They had owned a media production company back in the US. Life was becoming very materialistic for them, and then James lost his mother. He had also reached a crisis point, so he and his wife sold the company, sold their house and putwhat was left of their belongings in storage to go on pilgrimage and to start again.

James needed time to absorb his mother’s passing, and he and Dee wanted to use the time to think about how they could live a life that contributes more towards helping others, rather than themselves.

As I was leaving, I asked him whether he knew about the Cruce de Ferro (Iron Cross). It is a place much later in the walk at the highest point of the Camino where pilgrims traditionally leave a stone that is symbolic of the burden they have carried with them. It is an act to show one is releasing the burden on pilgrimage. I was surprised when James responded saying he didn’t know the place. I suggested he find a stone during the walk, write his mother’s name on it, and leave it at the Cruce deFerro. I will never forget the look he gave me upon saying this. 

I did not expect to be a part of his healing process. But I welcomed it, for it helped my own.

I found it absolutely amazing how many people I had met on pilgrimage who were walking to deal with grief – they had lost a parent, a spouse or another loved one.

Many conversations ensued with people. I enjoyed listening to their stories, laughing and crying with them as we walked along dusty paths next to beautiful Spanish vineyards, or sweating it out as we ascended mountains, and rested alongside babbling brooks.

This whole experience of my mother dying, leading me to being on pilgrimage and connecting with so many inspiring people was well worth the silver lining in that dark cloud.

We are most alive when we feel a real connection between ourselves and others. It’s a connection that stems from God’s desire for his creation to be in loving relationships with each other and Himself. In fact, many pilgrims joked that one day on the Camino is equivalent to a year of learning in life.

I also found it fascinating how easy it was to bond with fellow pilgrims. Who we were or what we did outside of the walk didn’t really matter. We were all pilgrims with simple gear and a backpack containing all our possessions. While on the walk I made new brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and yes, even enjoyed a romance or two.

For me it felt like life condensed into a space of six weeks alongside this makeshift Camino family.

People from all over the world, many, strangers in a foreign land, were all walking for various reasons that resonated with them to the very depths of their being. It was a beautiful experience of the human spirit seeking a truth greater than the surface desires of its ego.

That idea of searching and being aware of something greater than what we can perceive is brought into sharp focus through death. We are forced to think through those bigger, more pressing concerns about the nature of existence, our fragile mortality, and what role spirituality plays in this. It stems from that age old lesson, which I was reminded of on a daily basis while on pilgrimage: Acceptance.

It’s a long walk. If you do decide to do it, some days you may walk 30-40 kilometres. Some days the terrain will be quite hilly and other days rather flat. Some days you will be walking in pristine wilderness, other days you’ll be walking alongside freeways and through city sprawls.

You may have many days by yourself, other days you will meet so many people you would wish you were walking by yourself!

I likened it to the journey of life with its tapestry of changing scenery and events. Like in life, sometimes the terrain we walk through isn’t very enjoyable, but if we walk with greater acceptance, it makes it a bit more bearable. And yet the actual routine of the Camino is very simple. You would wake up, pack your gear, walk, find breakfast, walk, lunch, walk, and then find a bed at the end of the day. The first thing you would do once having secured a bed would be to shower and then wash your clothes. Then it would be dinner and sleep.

On the surface it seems to be a very mundane routine, but there was a very real and beautiful simplicity to it, a grounding meditation if you will. It was the framework for each day that was made richer by the diversity of the people met and the sights seen.

Then, the end comes. The walk is over. There, at ‘the end of the world’, I was a solitary figure on the beach at Cape Finisterre. A storm was overhead. The ocean was very alive as the rain came down and the wind whipped the sand around my feet.

The waves roared. I held several stones in my hand each with the name of a loved one I had lost. I looked out across the ocean, said a prayer and threw the stones into the sea. I watched them arc one by one before they were lost in the foam. I entered the sea, submerged and arose again, ready to go back to the world. Ready to continue living. But I no longer felt alone, and my journey had just begun.

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