When you think of the country you love, how do you sing, dance, tell its story? Does it, for example, look anything like this painting (pic to the left)? In a recent article - how do we get out of this mess - George Monbiot rightly identified the underlying narratives of our lives as major determinants of history, politics and healthy societies. This is at the core of so many of our contemporary conflicts and tensions. For it is by the stories we live, the songs we sing, the moves we make, that we shape our world and are shaped. Monbiot correctly observes that this is why some will act in ways which are actually self-destructive and even resist change which is in their best interest. This helps us better to understand challenges like the Brexit vote, the political success of Donald Trump, and the obstinate blinkers of some farmers and rural people to the realities of climate change. Outlining both the power, and the weaknesses, of two major political-economic stories (the Keynesian and 'free market'/monetarist paradigms) within which the 'developed' world has lived for the last few decades, he pleads for a new story: a story grounded in the environment, the affirmation of human community, and the creation of volunteer networks, mutual help, and advocacy. So how do we create this story? My sense (shared I'm sure by George Monbiot) is that it needs a holistic approach, which weaves together the creative insights and capabilities of our current age with existing wisdom from wherever it can be found, not least from Indigenous peoples and the best of our religious-spiritual traditions...
Highlighted quotations in Songlines: tracking the Seven Sisters - the wonderful current exhibition in the National Museum of Australia - put this beautifully. As Curtis Taylor observed in 2010:
Just like the old people, we are dreaming. We have a new dream with technology. We're using the newest technology with the oldest technology.
For, as David Miller, artist and former chair of Ananguku Arts, similarly said in that same year:
You mob got to help us... those songlines they all been broken up now... you can help us put them all back together again.
The Songlines exhibition (on show in Canberra until 25 February 2018) is a terrific expression of this intent. Part funded by a very generous donation in honour of the late great Father Ted Kennedy (former Catholic parish priest in Redfern, Sydney), it brings the ancient wisdom of Australia alive with a range of media, offering us (through Aboriginal artists, elders and community leaders) fresh yet very old ways of knowing and living into a new story and song for our lives and world. This ancient wisdom has been understood in many ways by different peoples across Australia yet there is a common spirit and intimate connections. This is both a gift and an invitation for others to share and add their own healthy dreaming. For, a the exhibition introduction - 'So everyone can see' - has it:
We have brought the song, stories and paintings full of Tjukurpa, the creation spirit of the Seven Sisters... to show this major creation story here so many other people can look, learn, and increase their understanding. All people, white and black, can come and see and understand. And its for teaching all our children, our granddaughters and our grandsons - to keep the culture strong.
To share in the exhibition is to be drawn more deeply into this ancient story and song of Australia, interpreted afresh by those who are its principal inheritors and stewards. In doing so, all are offered the opportunity to retell our own story and our own song, in ways which contribute to binding up and healing of us all. The depth and textures of the Sisters stories and songs are extraordinary: combining the moral and cosmological power of other ancient mythological tales with distinctive lively, down--to-earth, and even raunchy, aspects which touch so many dimensions of our human lives and longings. In doing so they embody a radical sacramentality, attentiveness and relationality from which Europeanised Christian Faith, as well as secularist philosophy, has so much to learn. May we therefore take up the invitation to the dance and help weave our shared story and song afresh.
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.