On this New Year's Eve, 4 000 people took refuge from bushfires on the beach at Mallacoota in Victoria. The dramatic pictures - full of burning, smoke, and red skies - understandably drew forth words such as 'apocalyptic'. With two more lives lost today, together with many houses, the unprecedented series of bushfires across Australia cast a strong pall over the nation. The evacuation on the beach is but one powerful symbol, but, in the apocalyptic mood, it vividly makes fact the fiction of the famous film On the Beach (released in 1959, starring Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner and Fred Astaire), with its Melbourne 'end of the world' scenes. This is not the product of nuclear devastation however, but of the wilful neglect of decades of climate research and the 'she'll be right' blinkered stubborness of so much Australian and worldwide 'leadership'. It is a fierce verdict on such self-obsessed, and ultimately self-destructive, politics which have been so prominent in so much of the world this year. At the turn of this year therefore, lament, rather than looking forward, may seem most appropriate. What hope do we find?...
The Virgin's Lament
Encouragingly, in a similar grounded spirit of appreciating our world's woes yet in renewed hope, a Christmas/New Year card arrived here today from the Wild Goose Resource Group in Scotland (following the visit of John Bell, and our wonderful Celebrating Our Equal Voices event in Brisbane's Anglican Cathedral in May this year). The picture above is a photo of the design, created by Graham Maule, a collage 'after Michelangelo's Pieta and Ed Hawkins Global Climate Change temperatures (1850-2017)'. The words, by John Bell, are headed by the title 'The Virgin's Lament':
What kind of a world awaits the one
whose shape determines me,
when dark is doubly dark
and salt and light are hard to see?
If seasons' cycles, time and tide
are ruptured endlessly,
who then must strive to stay alive,
who flourish and who flee?
Is this a land in which my child
might safely live and grow
or will ripe truths be choked to death
by weeds that liars sow?
I am the virgin, like the world,
pregnant with hope and fear
for earth and all humanity
this season, this new year.
It is a timely lament and posing of how we may look forward, if we have the strength, wisdom and will. For it leads us to important choices and changes we must make.
time to 'safely live and grow'
For myself, 2020 promises to be a 'watershed' year in a number of important ways. I trust that it may be so in a positive way for us all: a year when, together as a nation and world, we may stop evading the invitation to honour the common good and the one planet we share; a year when we may begin to rejoice fully in our diversity and treasure the gifts of 'the little ones', the marginalised and despised'; a year when we may nurture contemplative living, compassion and inclusive, affirming, community; sharing divine cool rather than adding to the destructive heat raging internally and externally. Shall we, and our children, 'safely live and grow', as John Bell's Virgin asks? Or will we suffer further choking by the liars' weeds? The last few days I've spent living and growing with two of my grandchildren. That is part of nurturing hope and of finding it springing up again. As we leave 2019 however, we must also share the lament, and the hope, more widely, lest we all be beached in fear and pain.
Jo Inkpin is an Anglican priest serving as Minister of Pitt St Uniting Church in Sydney, a trans woman, theologian & justice activist. These are some of my reflections on life, spirit, and the search for peace, justice & sustainable creation.