Articles

Gaia’s Revenge?

Gaia watches from a vale of sorrow,
her life abundant used to serve and feed
visions seeded with a bright tomorrow,
but dreamt by a voracious, fertile breed.
Weakened by a population growing,
polluted by exhausted seas and land,
hostage to consumption overflowing
she struggles to survive excess demand.
Few heed the warnings of her urgent sighs,
seduced by prospects of a better life,
tho’ Eden soon may wake to plaintive cries
interweaved with apocalyptic strife.
Bushfires and pandemics scourge the nation:
Gaia’s revenge, or human creation?

James Lovelock conceived the Gaia hypothesis, named after the Greek goddess of Earth, in 1965. Through it, Lovelock popularised the idea of the whole earth as one giant self-regulating ecosystem, describing his scientific journey as a quest in search of evidence for the idea that the earth is alive. The Gaia hypothesis attracted the attention of eminent theologians such as Rosemary Radford Ruether, and seemed to cohere with New Age spirituality.

In exploring this concept I was influenced by Judith Wright’s poem ‘Australia 1970’, where the final verse reads:

I praise the scoring drought, the flying dust,
the drying creek, the furious animal,
that they oppose us still;
that we are ruined by the thing we kill.

This casts Land as a protagonist where we might be wary of, in Ruether’s words, ‘”Mother Earth” rising up like a chthonic Jehovah to topple human empires and return earth to pre-civilised simplicity … a justified revenge of “nature” against “civilisation”’.

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Chris Dalton is a retired public affairs analyst, with a passion for public theology, particularly with regard to the environment. Author of Reimagining Land in Australia: From Terra Nullius to Beloved Companion, he finds poetry a rewarding way to explore ‘wicked’ problems. He lives on Bunurong/Boonwurrung and Yuin Lands.

Sophia’s Lament

Sophia. The true unity in the true trinity, from Scivias by Hildegard von Bingen according to the Ruppertsberger Codex (around 1180) - 2
Hildegard von Bingen, Three Persons (detail), c. 1152. Published in Sara Salvadori, Hildegard von Bingen: A Journey into the Images (Milano: Skira, 2019), 26.

Are you so blind
as not to see
the outcomes of
a reckless, grasping
lust for more?

Are you so deaf
as not to hear
the cries of woe
from nature’s victims
of relentless greed?

Are you so dumb
as not to speak
the prescient words
that bigger barns
will fail to satisfy?

Yet once you ate
Wisdom’s fruit
to help discern
how you should live
in Eden’s paradise.

Gaia now waits,
brooding her revenge,
mourning barren lands,
exhausted mines
sucked dry by you.

Release your soul
and question why
you toil in pain,
addicted to gorging
nature’s bounteous crop.

Hide not from God,
come to me …
see gifts of love
gracefully clothe
the body of Shalom.

Hovering above chaos
with creative light,
fuelled by goodness,
overcome by none,
I’m dancing my lament.

Inspired by Genesis 1.1–5, Genesis 3, Luke 12.13–21, John 1.1–5, and Romans 8:22.

The wisdom proverb See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil tells of those who, like the three monkeys, turn aside when confronted by evil.

What St John says about ‘the Word of God’ was said about Sophia in the Jewish tradition.  Like the Word, Lady Wisdom was present with God before Creation. Just as the Word was with God and was God, so Sophia was. And when John writes that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us as Jesus, he could just as well have said that Sophia became flesh and dwelt among us as Jesus, the Wisdom of God incarnate. Sophia now hovers over the chaos of bushfires and pandemics.

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Chris Dalton is a retired public affairs analyst, with a passion for public theology, particularly with regard to the environment. Author of Reimagining Land in Australia: From Terra Nullius to Beloved Companion, he finds poetry a rewarding way to explore ‘wicked’ problems. He lives on Bunurong/Boonwurrung and Yuin Lands.

Things to do in the belly of the whale

When I fractured my skull in late 2019 in a cycling accident, I went into an early lockdown. While life continued for so many, mine stood still, as I learnt new rhythms of selfhood. I took Julian of Norwich as my guide and I learned to sit still. With a cat and an acorn as my teachers, I sat: as the fires provoked us, as air pollution apps were downloaded and golf ball hail rained down on parliament. I was in training; training, for the eventual lockdown of COVID-19. I emerged from my restrictive neck brace into the still-restricted confines of my small (but lovely) apartment. But now I shared the experience with the world.

What I hadn’t expected is the noise, the haste, and the pounding incessant need for ‘connection’ that now surrounded me.

We all need each other: completely! We’re all in this together: 100%.

But it’s also OK to be a bit quiet sometimes – to curl up on the couch, to think, to pass idle time, to be present to the quietness within, and to all you might find there.

This animation was made, inspired by this feeling and by the words of Dan Albergotti. His poem ‘Things to do in the belly of the whale’ captured something, somewhere quiet, somewhere where Zoom cannot prompt you back to the exterior of your life, somewhere where no wifi can find you.

Because in 2020: Here we are, in the belly of the whale.

And, like Jonah, we have to wait.

Quietly …

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Pearl Taylor is a Melbourne-based visual artist, art therapist and Uniting Church youth facilitator, invested in the ways faith forms our personal narrative. Pearl’s art practice is informed by a pinch contemplative traditions, a healthy dose of the radically-inclusive, and a touch of humour. As she dabbles in theological spaces, it is through creativity that she expresses, connects, and invites others in. She lives on Wurundjeri land.

Keeping Vigil

Embed from Getty Images

‘Are you alright?’ The text message comes in late at night at the very end of the decade. I don’t understand my friend’s concern until I recall telling her our campervan road trip plan. For the Christmas break, we were heading to Wangaratta, Corryong, Canberra, and back home via the coast. Now, apart from Wangaratta, every destination in our plan is either on fire or surrounded by it. We turn tail and head back to Melbourne.

Hours after we arrive home a call comes in. My 94-year-old mother has had a major stroke. There’s a long evening in Emergency at Box Hill Hospital and after midnight we sleep in a nearby street in the campervan.

That night curtained off from the street, I enter the cocooned time of vigil where nothing else matters and everything matters.

The following day the medical staff tell me that my mother will not recover. Her Advanced Care Plan is our guide, for she can longer speak or move the right side of her body. In the instance of brain damage, my mother has documented that the only intervention she would want is pain relief. The staff assume she can hear and speak to her with quiet respect, explaining each small action and intention.

While I stay by my mother, I glean only the edges of the news; already the horror of the fires has been at full stretch. In the quiet room where my mother lies, I think of people trying to sleep in unfamiliar environments, refugees from the fires.

When we were on the road we’d been checking with friends in areas under threat. One loses her house in Mallacoota; another finds thousands of dead birds on the beach at Lake Tyers. An extended family member is in the Rural Fire Service in New South Wales. We don’t try to contact him except to cancel our plans to visit.

I spend long hours sitting with my mother. While she sleeps, I try to rest. Periodically I check the numerous messages on my phone. When I gaze out of the window, there is smoke across the horizon. 

I think of the people who will be in burns units, the agony of the fires written into their flesh. I imagine the ones who will be speechless having witnessed trauma they have no words for. Very few will have the luxury of a peaceful space in which to come to terms with loss.

Mum’s room is filled with flowers picked from home gardens and handwritten cards delivered by people who come for brief visits and take their time alone with her. When my brother calls from overseas, he tells me he’s going to sing her a song. I place the phone next to her ear and leave the room so she can listen alone. 

The people in the fires will not have the privilege of saying farewell. They’ve had little warning to leave behind a life, a livelihood, beloved animals, and landscapes. I think of the caregivers in forests and animal refuges. Creatures are gone now in unthinkable numbers.

My friend from Mallacoota tells of a bloke who lives out of town and runs a refuge for injured animals. He had to leave his land, not knowing what might happen to the wallabies and wombats, the eastern grey kangaroo and many birds he feeds out of money eked from his pension. When he flees, he sets up water and feed, and against the prevailing wisdom, leaves the door and windows of his caravan open.

Returning, he finds his caravan rimmed by a patch of unburnt forest. The sky is yellow tinged with amber. The bush is silent. Waiting at the caravan door is a small band of creatures, inside is the eastern grey kangaroo. They have made their way back. Just before the fires, he released three wombats. When reports come back to him of a couple of wombats in the vicinity of their release, he beams with contentment.

Last Spring, in northern New South Wales, rainforests were on fire. Mount Nardi in World Heritage-listed Nightcap National Park burns. Leah White reports on the ABC Science Show that ‘Terania Creek rainforest itself burned for the first time in 1,120 years. Hundreds of brush box and other rainforest trees, many over 1,000 years old, have fallen in flames, their bases eaten out by fire’.

I text my friends who grew up in the northern rivers area. They are bereft.

Eco-philosopher Thom van Dooren teaches at Sydney University and lives in the Blue Mountains. In 2019, when I first speak to him, he describes the task of bearing witness to species extinctions. I talk to him just weeks before these unprecedented ravages of fire erase forests and habitats.

Thom quotes his mentor, the late Deborah Bird Rose. In this age of the Anthropocene, she urges us not to look away but to tell the stories of the creatures who are disappearing.

Rose says you can only miss what you love. She describes the emptiness and possible cynicism of a world denuded of creatures: ‘The emptier Earth becomes, the emptier are those who remain alive. That emptiness may produce a particular gaze, a “mere life” gaze that refuses to live fully because it refuses to face all this death’. With powerful understanding of the interconnectedness of the human and more-than-human world, she says, ‘Without them there is no us’.

In a piece titled ‘Instructions for Life’, the late poet Mary Oliver describes bearing witness in seven words: ‘Pay Attention. / Be Astonished. / Tell about it’.

From a bedside surrounded by kindness, I keep watch by my mother. The medical, nursing and palliative care staff are acutely observant. They do not turn their backs on us.

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JULIE PERRIN IS A MELBOURNE WRITER, ORAL STORYTELLER, AND ASSOCIATE TEACHER AT PILGRIM THEOLOGICAL COLLEGE, UNIVERSITY OF DIVINITY. SHE KEEPS A WEBSITE, AND HER MOST RECENT BOOK IS TENDER. SHE LIVES AND WORKS ON WURUNDJERI LAND.

Out of Good Friday, Easter

Threat of fire looming,
adrenalin flowing,
fear rising,
towering clouds of smoke enveloping,
fight or flight decisions.

Picture1

Then, late one night,
roaring in the darkness,
fire hit, walls of flame descending,
people fearful for their very lives,
red tongues devouring flora, fauna, property.

Picture2

Locals, soon to be heroes,
fighting rearguard actions
in extreme conditions.

03 P2281852 'Thank You', W Tree, Feb 28, '20.JPG

Then, dwelling in the aftermath,
immersed in devastation, destruction, death,
homes, memories, livelihoods shattered:

04 P1250743 Family Home Destroyed.JPG

smoke choking, colour gone,
blackness,
ashes on the ground,
falling from the skies,
washed up on beaches,
eerie silence enveloping.
Adrenalin, still coursing through,
energising, exhausting bodies.

05 P1150513 Smoky Landscape, Sarsfield, Jan 15, '20.JPG

As people meet,
‘It’s so good to see you!’
passionate, heartfelt embracing of one another …

06 PC052003 Embrace.JPG

Wondering,
living with, fighting,
a myriad of feelings.
Questions arise.
Difficult questions.
Demanding questions.
Unanswerable questions.

07 Sun through Smoke Apr 21, '09 010.jpg

How do I go on living?
How do we recover?
When there seems no road ahead,
which way to turn?
Where is God in this?

There is a thin line between fear and faith,
between anxiety and trust.

People come,
people speak,
handshakes offered,
not always reciprocated.
Promises made.
Will they be fulfilled?
Will there be listening?
Will ways forward be found?
Recovery, healing?

09 P2261691 Death & Life, Gelantipy, Feb 26, '20.JPG

Activity all round,
sites cleared,
destruction cleared,
roads cleared,
hearts racing,
minds cluttered, chaotic.

10 P2171382 Clearing Princes Highway.JPG

A barbeque is held
people gather.
Sausages cooked, devoured;
and a glass or two
amid much conversation,
the sharing of stories.
Community re-formed, strengthened.
(There will be countless sausage sizzles
in the weeks and months ahead.)

11 BBQ Labertouche Apr 9, '09 017.jpg

At the Relief Centre,
tears are shed,
relief etched on faces
as there is listening
to stories told:
as compassion is shared.
Are such interactions
meetings on holy ground?

12 Meeting on Holy Ground Apr 9, '09 024.jpg

One man,
overwhelmed by his holocaust of fire,
the devastation, and enormity of recovery,
is immobilised.
‘There is too much to do.
I don’t know where to start’.
Another, after listening with intent, suggested
‘Choose one thing,
Focus on it …
When that is done,
Choose one more’.

Some time later,
they met again,
on site.
The One
expressed his gratitude,
‘The small steps approach is working’.
The Another
could see it in the work achieved
and in the countenance before him:
transformed.
Was the God in One
meeting the God in Another?
Was the God in Another
meeting the God in One?

After the fires, rain came,
rain fell, over 100 mils of it,
saturating the soil.
Days later,
the earth gave forth its produce,
as shoots of grass emerged.

13 P1240589 Life returns after rain, Sarsfield, Jan 24, '20 large.JPG

Green grass …
To blackened environments,
the colour, returning,
transfigured the land
as well as many singed hearts and minds.
Spirits lifted.
Was this resurrection?

14 P2171301 Is this resurrection.JPG

In one rural area,
as two people spoke,
a woman, suddenly distracted,
averted her eyes
as she looked beyond her companion,
crying tears of joy and relief:
‘Eric! He’s alive!
He’s come back!
We thought he was dead’.

There,
scampering across the paddock,
was Eric, the echidna.
‘We thought he was dead’.

15 P1220525 Eric, Windsor Drive Echidna.JPG

‘My dams have been empty for three years.
Look now!
They’re overflowing!
What a sight for sore eyes!’

16 P1230570 130ml rain fills the dam, Sarsfield, Jan 23, '20.JPG

After days of deathly silence,
birds returning:
kookaburra, magpie,
black cockatoo, rainbow lorikeet,
their songs ringing through the air:
a joy-filled cachophany of sound.
What a chorus!
What colour!
What life!

17 P2130940 Rainbow Lorikeet.JPG

And, out of the desolation,
the beginnings of new life,
greens, reds, blues, browns,
many colours,
the exuberance of nature’s recovery,
– what naturalists call epicormic growth –
breaking through blackness:
emerging from the trunks of trees.
Easter rising from Creation’s Good Friday.

Could it be that, like nature,
out of our struggles and traumas,
new life emerges in we humans?
Could it be that God’s presence
is in literally every thing and every one?
… the Divine Presence in us and in all creation?
… the source of our hope?
Could it be …?

20 P2271805 Regrowth, Buchan Ridge, Feb 27, '20.JPG

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Alan Mathews is a retired Uniting Church minister with a passion for photography and discovering life in everyday moments. In these days of social isolation, he enjoys playing with words and images; and with the ‘doors’ they open. He lives, works, and plays on Boonwurrung land.