Indigenous Desert Spirit Journey with TEAR 2010


Our idea with this week in the desert was to connect with Indigenous People by re-connecting with the land. We wanted to allow an Indigenous person to share their story around a campfire and for this to open up ways of how reconciliation might occur. With Josh our Indigenous host and Ian Robinson who has done a PhD in Desert Spirituality organising the logistics, eight Aussie blokes went bush for 7 days in winter.


Although on one level cynics could say it was a 4 wheel driving camping holiday, there was much to process and contemplate on. If we weren’t processing how the desert was significant for the Hebrews, John the Baptist and Jesus we were exploring Josh’s take on Indigenous Spirituality and Christianity and when we weren’t allowing God to speak to us through the desert we were thinking of how we can take something of the stillness and space the desert provides back to our lives in suburbia.


A couple of significant moments stood out. It was one of the first nights of our trip that Josh quietly took me aside and pointed out the Southern Cross and showed me the Emu in the sky. He told me that the Emu means that the Creator will one day return and judge us, hold us accountable for our lives and when the beak opens, his return is imminent. I asked him, “What did your people think when Christians shared the bible with them?”  He replied, “We already knew that, bro”. This made me think of a term called “prevenient grace”. My understanding of this is that in every culture God has been at work; and that there is in every culture marks of goodness and ‘Godness’. Likewise in every culture there are parts that need redeeming.


Secondly, I was standing on a mountain looking over Lake Barlee, the largest Salt Lake in W.A. and having been immersed in stories of the land of the last 40 000 years for the last 5 days, Ian said, “60% of the mountain is iron ore. Take a good look around because it probably won’t be here in 10 years time”. I almost felt sick; I know I felt deeply sad. Our present culture thinks solely of short-term monetary gain and how we are prepared to destroy a part of the earth that has existed for thousands of years with years of history of fauna and flora and culture for money.


Much of our time was spent exploring the land, animals, insects, flowers, rock formations, tribal birthing grounds and sacred sights. After marvelling at the wonder of it all, it was a jolt for us to realise that Josh was also a hunter for his tribe. He shot a few kangaroos and killed an echidna for us to eat, yet did so with great respect for them. He spoke in his language to them and explained his need to eat. City life disconnects us from killing and skinning and gutting.  We were confronted that if we are going to choose to eat meat then this is the process that we have to re-connect with. Some of us were jolted by what appeared to be a paradox of great reverence and respect for the land and trying to connect with God while shooting, skinning and gutting and eating roos. We then remembered that we respect the land not just because we should but also because our survival depends on its survival.


Many significant events occurred in those seven days. One guy confessed his hurt of 30 years being rejected by Indigenous kids being brought up in a mission to Josh. We learnt so much from each other and bonded closely, swapping cars regularly.


We were confronted also by Josh’s spirituality. Prior to us visiting a site he would speak in language to his ancestors, asking permission for us to visit the land. He would often then say that the ancestors and he felt very sad about the loss of their culture but also welcoming of us non-Indigenous people that we want to learn about it. Sometimes he said he say a man that would not allow him to enter a birthing site but that we could enter. When I dared ask Josh about all this he said that there are some aspects of “the tribal law’ that he leaves behind but the ways of the bush and the knowledge of the land he adheres to because this doesn’t contradict his Christianity. Some of us felt awkward that he addressed the dead but at the same time we felt we were paying him the respect due, as this is his land.  He, in turn, felt that we weren’t paying due respect to God, treating the Almighty with too much familiarity, that we argued about the Scripture instead of just believing it and obeying it, and that our spirituality was about what we could get out of it for ourselves. Fair comment.


 Lastly, we were trying to figure out small steps of how we could ‘take the desert back with us’. Some thought of having camp fires of silence everyday in their back yards, some thought of community camp fires instead of movie or tv watching. Some of us want to connect with Indigenous people more often and live more simply, some are making changes in order to serve God more effectively and all of us are still processing what the desert meant for us. One thing we realised is that this Indigenous Desert Spirit Journey fed the roots and shoots of our faith; it nurtured our souls and challenged our actions.


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