Back to the beginnings of our understanding
Updated: Sep 8, 2020
What sort of a community will we be after returning from this period of COVID isolation? It will take some while and we may not get back to what we once considered ‘normal.’ But my question is a deeper one. Will we be a community of people who have reflected more deeply, women and men with stronger resolve to be a people called by Christ or will we be a perfunctory community who comes back because that is what you do in church? Of course, we may possibly be somewhere in between: women and men, young and old, who have been touched by something different; encountered some spiritual yearning but cannot name the difference or think with clarity about recommittal. For me the pandemic has, for example, reminded me how much we need each other, how we need face to face conversation, the appropriate touch of family and friends, ways to connect intimately, to chat over coffee or lunch, the movie or the concert. I have to ask: ‘Who will still be missing out?’ I am also much more aware about the way I have to draw on ‘gifts differing’ as St Paul says of the church in Corinth. Our community life only functions in socially healthy ways because of teachers, hospital staff, street sweepers, seat cleaners. I have to ask: ‘Who are we not honouring, supporting, praising?’
But then, thank God, we have had to care more appropriately for those not able to fend for themselves, those who are more vulnerable. Thus, we’ve offered housing to the homeless, due care to the elderly, allowed appropriate leadership from indigenous communities. The body image used by St Paul about the church has a broader application. And I have to ask:‘For whom do I need to speak up?’ And for us as a community: Who will we commit to in the months ahead? What voice will we have? Would it be helpful for us to reconsider the ancient words spoken to us at our baptism? How else will we remind ourselves about who we are and to whom we belong?
I am reminded of something Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote. He was the martyred Christian Pastor murdered by the Nazi’s for his Christian stance. Whilst in prison and on the eve of his godson’s baptism he wrote about the ancient words to be spoken over this child, and how we will be driven back to ‘the beginnings of our understanding.’
Reconciliation and redemption, regeneration and the Holy Spirit, love of our enemies, cross and resurrection, life in Christ and Christian discipleship. But Bonhoeffer then wrote about the church being incapable of taking reconciliation and redemption to women and men, to the world, because it had been fighting in those years ‘only for its self-preservation.’
We presently watch with horror and incredulity at what is happening currently in the US, and the obfuscation of its present leadership and recently the failure to call for a national day of mourning as they approach 100,000 deaths from the Coronavirus. As one journalist wrote, it seems as if there is ‘a cultural incentive to forget!’ One wonders about the church’s sense of self-preservation in that context. But we Australians also have had, and continue to have, ‘a culturalincentive to forget!’ Today we enter the Week of Prayer for Reconciliation. Progress is slow, and especially for First Australians, but we are trying not to forget. To do so will be the great loss of opportunity for Australian identity and spiritual life. If we Australians allow ourselves to be ‘driven back to the beginnings of our understanding’ we might not only hear words like reconciliation and Christian discipleship but also words like ‘land of the Holy Spirit’ and Altjirra, the Eternal One,’ and ‘about the need to look after the country, look after the earth, look after each other.’ It’s now two years since the consensus document ‘Statement from the Heart’ was dismissed by our then Prime Minister. And now, Prime Minister Morrison will only do something more when ‘consensus’ is found among aboriginal Australians! What he …! And so, I read the headline in yesterday’s Guardian: ‘Rio Tinto blasts 46,000-year-old Aboriginal site to expand iron ore mine.’
For Christian discipleship, reconciliation is at its core. As we think about (possibly) coming back to this community of Christ that meets in Gosford, can we think back to those ancient baptismal words and ‘the beginnings of our understanding?’ ‘Reconciliation and redemption, regeneration and the Holy Spirit, love of our enemies, cross and resurrection, life in Christ and Christian discipleship.’ What do they inspire in us, and not least of all about Reconciliation in Australia? Fr Don