Wisdom is bright, and does not grow dim. By those who love her she is readily seen, and found by those who look for her. (Wisdom 6:12-13)
O God, you are my God, for you I long; for you my soul is thirsting. My body pines for you like a dry, weary land without water. (Psalm 62)
This week is NAIDOC Week. I need to acknowledge at the beginning the fact I write this as a non-indigenous person, and pay my respects to those who are the original custodians of the land upon which I write. I cannot pretend that my words could match their wisdom or the insights that they may offer on this subject, and it is perhaps arrogant of me to even try.
NAIDOC is an acronym for National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee. NAIDOC Week “recognises and celebrates the rich history, diverse cultures and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander peoples as the oldest continuing cultures on the planet.”
Our reflection on Australia’s Indigenous heritage is rightly marred by the injustices of the last 250 years. Dispossession, genocide, the doctrine of Terra Nullius, disrespecting the dignity of the human person, not recognising the human person in the first place, the intentional destruction of language, removal of aboriginal children from their parents, black deaths in custody, poverty and disease … The list goes on and on, and justice does demand immediate attention and redress.
But it also clouds a key insight, only lately dawning on the majority of non-indigenous Australians: that our Indigenous brothers and sisters are the descendants of ancient and noble First Nations peoples who have occupied and cared for this continent for over 65,000 years. And they have a Wisdom and a cultural insight that is not only precious and unique to this place, but that we, the contemporary generations of Australians who live in a time of environmental degradation and climate change, can ill afford to ignore. The more contemporary recognition that Australian history did not begin on the 26th January in 1788, and the routine acknowledgement of Country that now takes place at our ceremonies, are but small steps at the beginning of a new journey we take together as contemporary Australians, living in this place.
Underpinning Judeo-Christian spirituality is the concept of ‘exile’. Psalm 62, using an ironically Australian concept of dry land thirsting for water in drought, captures this inner yearning most of us have for a homeland and a place to belong. St Augustine in his ‘Confessions’ expressed the same reality: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” For most of us, ‘exile spirituality’ makes sense. It is part of who we are. Because from the time of Abraham, our ancestors have been wandering, in search of a homeland. The migration to Australian shores over these last 250 years the most recent chapter in the story of our journey.
The Judeo-Christian tradition also has a wonderful Wisdom tradition, as captured in this weekend’s readings. But so too does the Indigenous heritage of this country, captured in its dreaming stories, its sacred art and dances, the first languages of this vast continent and the intimate, instinctive knowledge of the fragile ecosystems that make this place unique. NAIDOC Week asks us to respect these ancient traditions and listen to the Wisdom of those whose story in this place reaches back beyond time. The Judeo-Christian Wisdom literature invites us to do the same. Stop, look, listen, respect, love, and the Wisdom of this place will find us.
NAIDOC Week asks us to recognise that we who come from a non-indigenous background but now call Australia home are privileged to come to rest in a place, amongst a people, who have always been at home here, and belong, in a way that we cannot even begin to imagine. They have a knowledge, an understanding and a language to share with us, written in the very essence of this Land. May we have the humility to stop and drink from their Wisdom.