Postcard 3: On Arrernte Country, in and around Mparntwe/Alice Springs 

Contemplating Country at Campfire of the Heart

You might think that the desert would be the last place on earth to enjoy a campfire. The hot, dusty land, with dry-heat and the red red rocks of Arrernte country, around Mparntwe/Alice Springs was our home for 5 nights in early October where we shared in deep conversation with friends on retreat as part of our pilgrimage. We were staying at Campfire in the Heart, a glorious retreat space for 20 or so guests, with a warm welcome and with a glorious campfire space where the cool of the desert evening was off-set by the glow of the embers.

We had time to go deep together, to move close to one another through living in community – a profound experience so much at the heart of the life of the Iona Community, writ large here in an oh-so-different part of God’s great Creation.

In worship I shared with our friends in Mparntwe/Alice Springs the deep connection that we share as people of faith with an incarnate God – a God born of a woman, born of a Creator who took an incalculable risk to send a child to earth. I illustrated this connection with the image of the Lipchitz Sculpture from the Abbey – a glorious, stunning bronze image of the Holy Spirit hurtling through Mary, who stands with her feet firmly rooted in the midst of Creation, arms wide open, eyes blind, as the power and energy of the Holy Spirit flows through her and out to the world.

Lipchitz statue
Descent of the Holy Spirit at Iona Abbey

This deep connection with an incarnate God was powerfully mirrored back to us in a tender encounter later in the week with Dr. Kathleen Wallace, indigenous Arrente Aboriginal scholar and artist who shared with us the story of her remarkable painting, now a prominent stained-glass window in the Roman Catholic Church in Mparntwe/Alice Springs. In it, Mary and Jesus are depicted in full ceremonial paint as Aboriginal people. Mary is bare-breasted, and, with Jesus, is ‘standing on a sandhill on the earth. Jesus’ hands are open to give light to the world. The light is there for all people to follow.’ There are three circles towards the top of the painting/window. Dr. Kathleen told us that ‘My grandfather, through his ancestors, was given a dream of three circles. The circles are Arrenge, Akngeye, and Utnenge – grandfather, father and totem spirit. I realised later, when the Sisters of the Sacred Heart read to us from the Bible, it was like the Trinity – Father, our Creator, the Son and the Holy Spirit.’

Urtakwerte Atywerrenge Anthurre / Very Sacred Heart.
Stained Glass Window in Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church.

Our connections do indeed run deep, through the power of the incarnate Christ and the magnificence of the woman, the mother-Mary.

On the final full day together at Campfire in the Heart, before our last sharing around the fire, we reflected on the story of Jacob and Esau as told in the book of Genesis. The brothers fight, fall out, live in exile from one another for many years, then tentatively come back together again. 

As we left Arrente country, reeling from the scale of the ‘no’ vote in the Voice referendum, and stunned by the horrors of violence in the lands called holy, there were few words to offer. And yet I know from our experiences in community in the desert that violence is not the way – the way to reconciliation must be through deep listening over many years. The way to peace is also through deep coalition and partnership, such as that with the Network of Christian Peace Organisations. The Iona Community recently signed this open letter about the situation in Israel/Palestine. I would encourage you to do the same – you can sign it here.

In this Week of Prayer for World Peace, I close with a prayer from the desert, holding all who are engulfed in violent struggle in heart and in mind.

God of soft sands and desert rocks.
God of deep sleep, of 
stone-sand pillows where dreams
unfurl, where balance is restored, and
where perspective is found.
So grant us times of
of reverie and revelation,
where pathways to peace may open wide,
and roads to reconciliation will unfold.
This song of hope
we lift to you, bird of peace.


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