Australia Day Reflection…

Saturday is/was Australia Day.  It means many different things to different people. Some enjoy another holiday.  Others celebrate the history of this nation. Some remember the struggle of indigenous Australians over the last 215 years and the immense difficulty and struggle that they continue to experience. Some are staunch Monarchists whilst others are strongly Republican.  Some have family histories that go back several generations and others are new arrivals. All of us (unless we descend from Indigenous Australians) are of immigrant origin – truly boat people.  Some Australians live on the land and seek to work with the harsh environment whilst most of us revere the myths of the outback but live in cities full of high-rise buildings or the sprawling suburbia.

I always come to this celebration with mixed thoughts and feelings.  On the one hand this is a good country with many things to celebrate, appreciate and enjoy.  I am not a ‘seasoned traveller’ who has ventured far and wide and has felt the ‘call of home’ from distant places.  I can’t easily compare our nation with others except through what I read and hear across airwaves and internet.  I have ventured to the South Pacific and recognise they have considerably less, materially, than we have but show more gratitude and joy than we do.  Would I, could I, live in one of these ‘idyllic’ Pacific Paradises?  Probably not but they ask questions of me.

The part of me that comes to this day with something other than celebration is that which detests the incessant drive towards patriotism and uncritical acceptance of all things ‘Australian’.  The awful and derisive use of ‘Un-Australian’ is a simple way to end any reflective critique of the land we love and call home.  Like every household and family, there is the good and problematic.  Nothing is perfect and nothing above reflection and growth.  Ancient Greek philosopher, Socrates said: ‘An unexamined life is not worth living.’  Harsh but true.  Open reflection, critique and analysis is important for an individual and a society if we are to grow, mature and become who and what we can be.

It is often difficult in modern Australia to raise issues of important conversation because such conversation is quickly closed down.  When it confronts the political narrative, governments and oppositions quickly silence it.  When it confronts corporate Australia, the business world throw vast sums at silencing debate or any change.

When we peer into the heart of Australian life and look at the reality, few want to venture there.  It is true, however, that only as we venture more deeply into the reality that is our nation, our life, that we appreciate its true and deeper beauty. We will also discover what we can be; who we are becoming.  It is only as we confront the real heart of Australian life in all its diversity that we hear the breadth of the conversation, the voices that are gentle or silenced and see the beauty of people who share this cultural mix-pot and seek the best for themselves and their family.

The reality, as social researcher Hugh Mackay and others describe, is that Australia is both wonderful and hard.  We have the vast, but shrinking, beauty of the natural landscape.  Gorgeous bushland, sunburnt, golden beaches with clear blue water, a diversity of unique and wondrous wildlife, are things we enjoy and love.  We live in a modern nation that has wealth and a high standard of living.  We have been mostly generous in distributing that wealth across its people, although the gulf between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ continues to widen at an increasing rate.  Mackay’s research bears this out.

We are wealthy people, by the standards of the world where 80% of the world’s population shares only 20% of the world’s resources! (This same imbalance applies in Australia where 10-20% of the population own most of the wealth) Whilst many Australians are generous when others need a hand, as a nation we give relatively little in overseas aid to poorer and developing nations. Many of the older generation attest to a growing greediness amongst Australians – we are encouraged to consume and accumulate material possessions and keep everything for ourselves. Despite our growing wealth there is clearly not and equal growth in contentment. If anything, Australians are less content, more stressed and less happy than ever before. There is more pressure on significant relationships, families, communities and a breakdown in personal interaction at meaningful levels where people feel they can ‘belong.’  Social research reveals this deeper truth we may know in our being and feel in our bones but is lost in the plethora of decisions, bustling activity and unrelenting demands on time and energy.  We are a people under stress.  As we ‘prosper’ materially and as social, technological and communications changes impose more possibilities on our already full lives, we feel the weight of choice, decisions and keeping up.  We feel this weight in our bodies, minds and spirits. We are tired and rushed and the inevitable consequences of modern stress detract from our well-being and enjoyment of life.  Mackay points to this stress in his book Advance Australia Where?  A summary article suggests the following:  The key effect of all these changes has been to place great stress on countless individual Australians. Inevitably, Mackay explains, other things have had to “give”.

The first is family. Many young adults postpone marriage and children to their thirties or forties or eschew them entirely. The divorce rate is historically high (more than 40 per cent) and the birth rate historically low (1.7 babies a woman).

Our health and wellbeing have suffered. Obesity, depression, anxiety, loneliness, drug use, alcoholism, gambling, porn consumption – their incidence has risen appreciably.

As we have gained more, materially, our lives have become more consumed with the associated consumption and the distraction that having ‘too many toys’ brings.  We don’t have time to sit and ‘be’.  We don’t have time to chat or share long meals unless we can fit them in around busy schedules.  We don’t take time to ponder and reflect and wonder and ask curiosity questions.  We have too little time or energy to pray and that is bad for the spiritual dimension of our being.  Perhaps it is time for Australians to consider those things which are of true value and those which are merely seductive and don’t bring greater contentment, meaning or joy. Relationships and acts that make a difference to other people are clearly more meaningful and satisfying than accumulated wealth.  Beyond providing for necessities and important extras, more significant wealth fails to bring higher levels of satisfaction, joy, meaning or contentment.  This is not the predominant message that I hear through media and society, which champions ever-greater wealth.

The impact of our materialism is felt most deeply on the state of our planet that struggles under the intensity of the pressure due to human demand.  Soaring populations and the plundering of land and resources is causing extreme stress upon the earth.  The resulting changes in climate and the struggle for survival of many animal and plant species is reaching catastrophic levels.  Feeding the human population, especially through resource-consuming meat products, is becoming more difficult and adds excessively to the problems we face.  Climate change and the environmental impacts of human populations is probably the most serious challenge and crisis we face.

Australia has been a wonderful place for many immigrants and difficult for others.  People from across the world have made Australia home and have mostly been welcomed, although there has been a period of ‘getting used to’ new cultures. Many have come seeking refuge and asylum from various wars or forms of persecution.  They have sought this land because of the freedom and openness they have heard that typifies our people.  Australians pride themselves on being egalitarian and fighting for the underdog, and the battler.  We like to believe in a fair go for everyone.  We have, arguably, one of the most successful racial mixes of any nation.  Our multiculturalism has always been part of modern Australia. Accompanying multiculturalism has always been forms of racism – they are still present.  Those of you who have come from foreign lands more recently will attest to the racism that is present in our nation.  Often it comes from fear or uncertainty of unknown people.  It breaks down if, and when, we meet each other and get to know each other – it’s really difficult to hate those we actually like and have come to understand!  Racism tends to be directed towards specific ethnic groups.  Previously it was Italians and Germans and other Southern Europeans, then Asians.  Today it is more towards those of Islamic nations and those of the Middle East.  Racism appears in many forms and guises. It is personal and institutional – some of our significant foreign policies are distinctly racist but hide behind ‘National Security’ or terrorism.

Something changed in our national rhetoric, a decade or so back.  We began to revile those seeking asylum and turned them back.  It was a sudden decision of political will supported on both sides of parliament and carried by strong rhetoric and the conversation changed.  Suddenly people who were previously given an hospitable welcome and support were now looked upon with suspicion and sent packing onto Pacific Islands ill-equipped to deal with the issues of psychology, health and the traumas deep in their human spirit.  We are afraid – afraid of who they might be or what they might want.  We are afraid but we don’t know why; it’s just how it is. We are constantly reminded to be afraid and alert and suspicious and we carry this angst in our being.

As the material well-being of most Australians continues to rise, for others there is growing gap of hopelessness as they are not invited to share in the prosperity.  These are people of various backgrounds and conditions.  Some have poor education, for many reasons, and can’t get work.  There is always someone a bit better and no matter how they try no-one will employ them.  Some live with mental illness, chronic illness or serious disability and find work difficult, if not impossible.  There are pensions and benefits but not enough to enable them to engage in what most of us take for granted.  I remember a story of a single mum who struggled to hold her life together with 3 small children.  She managed her money well and there was always food on the table and clothes for the children.  She paid the rent and they went to school but there was nothing left over at the end of the week for the little extras.  A hot summer’s day found them unable to afford the $15 to get a bus and go to the local swimming pool – it simple wasn’t in the budget.  Welfare agencies know the realities that governments seek to play down.  Life is very difficult for many people in Australia.

Parents of children with serious physical and/or intellectual disabilities find the going incredibly tough and there are few who are willing to take time to understand.  Time out to enjoy some moments of peace and to do things that you and I take for granted are few and very far between.  These are largely invisible people because getting out and about is not easy to manage.  In fact, many people are invisible in our society, hidden from view in neighbourhoods that keep them isolated, shut off from other people and groups.  We all mostly live within our own homes and then drive where we are going.  We shop in large anonymous malls designed to get us in and out efficiently, after spending money on the extras we didn’t intend to buy.

The alienation we experience in our lives drives fear, loneliness and existential angst as we seek a deeper purpose and meaning amidst the affluence and prosperity that brings stress but changes our happiness or joy very little.  This week’s Gospel reading is quite significant for us in this time of national life.  It comes from Luke 4:14-21.  It is the inaugural sermon of Jesus in Luke’s story – his mission statement if you like.  Jesus read some verses from the prophet Isaiah.  Jesus said: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

The Jewish conception of poverty, it isn’t only economic.  New Testament commentator, Joel Green defines “poor” in the first-century Mediterranean world:  In that culture, one’s status in a community was not so much a function of economic realities, but depended on a number of elements, including education, gender, family heritage, religious purity, vocation, economics, and so on.  Thus, lack of subsistence might account for one’s designation as “poor,” but so might other disadvantaged conditions, and “poor” would serve as a cipher for those of low status, for those excluded according to normal canons of status honour in the Mediterranean world.

Poverty is material/ economic but also spiritual, psychological and physical.  The poverty for which Jesus promises ‘good news’ is not just economic but also the poverty of oppression where people are held captive.  This could be political, religious, economic, health, psychological, addiction – anything that oppresses people and holds them captive.  For many in the wealthy West it could be affluence and materialism.  Jesus’ message and mission is about an alternative that delivers freedom and life rather than ongoing bondage.  There are captives and prisoners that Jesus refers to and he speaks of release from the social, spiritual and economic factors that bind people and hold them captive.  Jesus’ prophetic mission statement also includes the provision of sight for the blind, a message for the ‘blindness’ that pervades our world.  May we see with eyes of compassion. This is a message for our world and one that we would do well to contemplate on Australia Day.

The promised hope of Jesus challenges our culture and the assumptions of much of our society.  It challenges us with another way of seeing the world and the people around us and draws us into a deeper sense of community that is generous, hospitable and grounded in love not fear.  This way of God is life-giving for all people, providing a radical realignment of life towards the Reign of God in our world.

 

By geoffstevenson

Water into Wine – A New and Ancient Way into Life

I read a brief review of the most recent book by social researcher, Hugh Mackay, called: “Australia Reimagined – Towards a compassionate, less anxious society” It describes things we mostly know innately, that there is radical change that causes us to feel somewhat adrift, inducing a state of anxious uncertainty and even fear.  Mackay describes a fragmented society where important connections are breaking down.  The four major faultlines, as he calls them, are politics, religion, gender and education.  There are challenges and threats through massive change, along with the stalling in other parts of the revolution, such as gender equality.  We have decreased trust in major institutions and many of our leaders.  We are in increasing indebted and addicted – to devices, drugs, shopping, materialism…  He speaks about depression, anxiety and suicide, which are pandemic and symptomatic of deeper problems such as the massive degree of change and instability we all face.  Increasing diversity, emotional breakdown (echoing breakdown in community), social isolation and fear all contribute to deeper anxiety, uncertainty and depression in a cycle that spirals downward.

It is clear that life in Australia in the early decades of the 21st century is not as easy as we might expect, given the relative growth in affluence and economic prosperity.  It is clear that the ways of yesteryear, with their stable, predictable and comfortable expectations and cycles of life, are no longer relevant or significant.  What we did a few decades ago no longer seems to work in ways we may want to expect.  Careers are changing and most people will have multiple careers across their lives, some of which for future generations have not even been thought of or created yet.  Artificial Intelligence is changing the way people work and the jobs that humans will be employed in.  There are so many functions that computers and machines can do more effectively than people.  There are functions that only humans will be able to do – things that involve emotional responses and relationships in particular.  Amidst the technological advances, and revolutions in communications and transportation that we all take for granted, there are the associated changes driven by these advances.  New knowledge and experiences open our minds to new ideas and ways that transcend what was and we cannot return.

Never-the-less, the future remains unsure and uncertain, fuelling fear and anxiety as we are unclear where we are heading and there may be unfolding recognition that what once worked or once seemed real and important is no longer sustainable.  Some of the values, beliefs, priorities and things we trusted are less firm and certain.  We need a new program, a new approach to living and being, one that, as Mackay suggests, is more compassionate and respectful of one another despite differences in culture, ethnicity, belief, gender, sexual orientation and capacity.  We need a new, perhaps ancient, way that will lead us into life that is more inclusive, communal, gracious and compassionate.

I am drawn into this topic by reflecting on the well-known and somewhat strange story about Jesus turning water into wine that is the Gospel reading for the week – John 2:1-11.  This story is filled with various symbols that point to God’s lavish, over-abundant generosity that turns the world and our cultural expectations on their head! In a shameful oversight they ran out of wine at the wedding.  Coaxed by his mother, Jesus told them to fill 6 stone jars used for the water of purification, which contained around 900 litres between them. In Jewish tradition one glass of water was enough to purify 100 people for worship. Therefore, this picture of 6 large jars holding 900 litres symbolically holds enough water to cleanse the whole world!  The abundant new wine of God’s Reign replaces the old ways of purification and offers blessing for the whole world.. The new wine is a symbol of God’s new age arriving, the age of shalom. The sign of good wine stands alongside the feeding of the 5000 in John’s Gospel. Both point to God’s embracing all people and feeding us – body, mind and spirit. The wonder of the steward when he tries the new wine also symbolises God’s abundant grace that gives us the very best. God’s love is abundantly present to all of us and reaches out to the world with lavish, generous grace that releases and realises the true potential within each person.

All too often this story is lost in the ‘miracle’ or the confusion as to what it actually means and why it is there.  We miss the bigger picture that John’s story of Jesus points us to a new way in the world.  The old way isn’t working.  It has become narrowed, and lost in religiosity and political power struggles, the dualistic thinking of right-wrong, in-out, black-white.  People have been diminished and relationship with each other, God and the earth broken.  Belief systems have taken over grace and generous love that is the heart of God and needs to be reflected within humanity.  When we recognise the full humanity of Jesus (along with divinity) we understand that we are invited into a deeper understanding of what it means to be more fully human and how the Divine is reflected within us, in our being and creation as people in whom the Spirit is present (God breathes God’s Spirit into people – Genesis 1).

The old ways are decayed and abusive as power, might and wealth are used to separate people from others and define who is right or wrong, good or bad, strong or weak, deserving or not.  Jesus revealed that old ways had died and needed to be laid to rest as we embrace a new-ancient way in the world – the way of God.  This is as true now as 2000 years ago.  When we look at how we deal with various issues in our lives and the world, we might recognise how we often continue to try the same approach and we continue to be drawn into more chaos and confusion.  Our fear and strong arm approach to asylum seekers continues to create myriad difficulties, not least for some of the world’s more vulnerable people.  The economic cost of keeping people in detention centres on Pacific Islands is astronomical and the emotional/psychological health of these people is seriously compromised.  Our defensive stance towards the Aboriginal people and the practices of European Australians over 200 years has not brought peace and relationship but only delivered more pain and struggle for many of our indigenous people.  The constant response to conflict and difference that is to drawn arms and fight hasn’t worked for a long, long time but we still do it.  We still invest in armaments and get bigger and bigger weapons to combat other nation’s even bigger weapons and the only ones who really gain are owners and investors of armaments manufacturers.

We need to approach life in new-ancient ways that build relationship, open ourselves to mystery and wonder, become humble and vulnerable before each other and seek reconciliation and peace, respect and grace, mercy and compassion – the way of Jesus!

By geoffstevenson

Flying Like an Eagle – Becoming Who You Can Be!

A college Professor stood before his classroom of young students, mostly in their early 20’s.  He asked a broad, general question: ‘How long have you lived?’

The students looked somewhat puzzled: what did this have to do with their sociology class?  The professor saw their quizzical looks and approached a young man sitting in the front row.  He looked at the young man and said: ‘Son how long have you been alive?  How long have you lived?’

The young man looked like a deer caught in headlights and fumbled with his words saying, ‘Well I’m soon to turn 21 so I guess nearly 21 years.’

The professor shook his head, ‘No, no.  I didn’t ask how long your heart has pumped blood of your lungs drawn air.  I asked how long have you been alive?  How long have you lived, really lived?’  In response to the even more curious, confused expressions the professor told them a story:

‘When I was in the 6th grade, about 12 years old. Our class went on an excursion to the Empire State Building in New York City.  12 year old boys are more interested in fooling around and chasing girls than big buildings and learning.  So, we chased girls and fooled around, much to our teacher’s displeasure and frustration.  At one point I ran close to the side of the Observation Deck and looked out.  I was stopped in my tracks and caught my breath.  In that one instant I saw the whole of New York City laid out before me and I beheld a great wonder.  I stood transfixed, just staring into the wondrous sight.  Time stood still and everything else dimmed before this moment, this wondrous experience that consumed me and I felt my whole being alive as rarely before.  Nerve fibres tingled, and I felt one with everything.  I have had that same experience at several other times as well.  So, let me ask you once again, how long have you been alive?’

The young man pondered a moment and then looked up: ‘When you put it like that, Doc, I’ve probably lived fully for a few minutes.’

I wonder how much living most people actually achieve, and how often people find themselves fully alive?  The late priest, author and spiritual director, Anthony de Mello, says that most people spend their lives asleep – they are born asleep, grow asleep, marry asleep, work in their sleep, and die asleep.  They never come truly alive to who they are and can be.  They live within themselves and give in to the restrictions of society, peer pressure, fear…  He tells a story of a farmer on his morning walk.  He stumbled across a large egg lying in the grass.  Curious he picked it up and it was still warm in his hands.  There appeared to be a nest in the tree but no sign of birds.  The farmer took the egg home and placed it under one of his brooding hens.  Finally, the egg hatched and out came an eaglet.  The hen took charge of this chick along with the other chickens and raised it like the others.  The baby eagle learned to peck for food in the barnyard.  It learned to fly short distances to escape the cat or a fox and never took to the sky.

One day the eagle who thinks it is a chook looked up and saw a large and striking bird.  This bird soared on the air currents and glided through the skies.  The eagle-chook was transfixed by the wonderous sight.  It was completely in awe of this magnificent bird and commented to his neighbour.  The neighbour looked up and said, ‘Ah, that is the eagle, a regal bird and King/Queen of the skies!’

‘Wow, I wonder what it would be like to soar like that and be so grand?’ said the eagle-chook.

His neighbour scoffed and told him to stop dreaming – we are only chooks.  So, they went back to pecking in the barnyard for grain and seed and the eagle never really became what it could and should have been.  Again, I wonder how often this story is lived out in the lives of people who never discover their full potential and true calling.

This week we read the story of Jesus’ baptism (Luke 3:15-22).  It comes around every year from the perspective of a different Gospel writer.  The scene is set when people come out of the city to hear John the Baptist, a raw, honest prophetic voice calling people to come and have minds, being and hearts turned upside down and inside out, to become the people God created them to be.  He invites people into a repentance, a turning around and opening of mind, heart and spirit and to live in a new, hope-filled, compassionate way.  They came in droves, expectantly and hopefully.

John’s preaching is against the backdrop of struggle, harsh life and people yearn for something more, something hopeful and real.  John is, in effect, waking the people up and calling forth their ‘inner eagle’.  His words are sometimes harsh, strong, pointed and always grounded in love, compassion, generosity, justice and peace.  John offers a baptism, a ritual cleansing that symbolises their turning around and embracing a new way in God.  The people respond to John and believe he is the Messiah, sent by God to lead the people back to where they need to be.  John recoils from this expectation, pointing to one who will come, who is greater and will baptise in cleansing, renewing fire and life-giving Holy Spirit.

At the end of the passage Jesus appears but we aren’t clear about whether his baptism is by John or others because John is said to have been arrested by the King, whom his words have upset and caused anger.  Jesus was baptised, cleansed, renewed and offering himself into this way of deep life, love and grace.  After rising through the waters, Jesus prayed.  He prays often in Luke’s Gospel and his prayers are efficacious in bringing new awareness and understanding, new directions and they change everything.  Whilst praying there is the mysterious mystical experience whereby he receives Divine blessing and the pronouncement that ‘You are my Son the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

After baptism and blessing, Jesus is driven into the wilderness, the place of testing, temptation, seduction/temptation to let go of this way, this journey, this ideology and expectation of God.  The voice says: ‘Let go and be like everyone else’ – asleep. Jesus resists as he does throughout his life and mission and follows the way of God; a way of compassionate, engaged, just life that is lived in blinding technicolour.

It is into this spiritual journey we are invited to follow.  We are invited into the reality of relationship in God.  We are children of God and find our being, our calling and our life in God where all things find their balance and we discover whom we are created to be.  We no longer have to prove ourselves or live in fear.  We don’t have to fight and judge or define but are free to be and live in relationship with God, others and all creation! We are free to soar like the eagle we are created to be, to awaken and live in the bright, wondrous moment that is a gift and joy.

By geoffstevenson

The Journey into Enlightenment…

There’s a story of a woman sitting by the hospital bedside of her very sick husband.  Time ticks very slowly by and nothing seems to change.  She feels the despair well up within her and looks out of the window into the midnight darkness.  The woman needs to move, to walk, to get out of the room for a bit and wanders off through the eerily silent corridors of the hospital wards.  As she walks the deep reality of her grief hits her and though it is quiet and she alone, she heads for the lifts.  Riding up and down, the tears flow in the silent privacy that enfolds her.  Suddenly there is the telling ping of the lift signalling it stopping at a floor.  In this dark and desperate place, where peace and pain comingle, an elderly gentleman enters the lift.  He presses the button for his floor and then silently stands to the side. There has only been the gentle nod of acknowledgement and she hopes her tears have been quickly hidden as she wiped them with the back of her hand.  She continues to look down.  After a moment he gently removes a neatly folded handkerchief and, with a kind and knowing smile, passes it to her.  She looks up into his understanding eyes, the kindness and compassion radiating from there and offers a nod and sad smile back.

When the lift pings for a second time, he looks up then nods to her and quietly walks from the lift. There was something in his manner, his calm embrace of her pain in his gentle mannerisms, kind smile and a compassionate, understanding act that touched her and gave her a sense of peace in the midst of her pain.  As she rode the lift back up and emerged onto her husband’s floor, she felt calmly embraced by the presence of God and knew that whatever happened over the next hours, she would be okay.  She would be okay!

She sat back by her husband’s side and felt the peace and grace of the moment.  In her darkness, in this place of despair and pain, this woman encountered God!  In the darkness of night there was a gentle light that radiated through her and lit her world with a renewed hope, love and life – even in the midst of her sadness and the precarious nature of her husband’s health.

Sometimes the journey into ‘light’ comes unexpectedly such as in this story.  Sometimes the light shines before us and leads us into the unfolding experience of wonder, awe and life.  This is much as we experienced last year in our visit to Uluru and Kata Tjuta (of which I’ve written before).  It was a journey in which we were drawn, finally, into this place of deep spiritual wonder and significance, a place where God’s presence is very real.  I discovered some of this feeling in my first visit to Ebenezer Church, out past Wilberforce.  It is the oldest continually used Church in Australia – 210 years this year.  I wandered from the simple car park and saw the church, a simple sandstone structure.  I walked through past it and the old ‘Schoolmaster’s Cottage’ and the whole site opened up.  It slopes gently down to the Hawkesbury River and the wonder of the whole place struck me in an instant!  It is impossible to really convey the sense of awe and spiritual presence that exists at Ebenezer Church.  Pilgrims come from far and wide to sit and ponder, to experience and feel the Presence.  Some have a name and understanding, and others only know that it is real, and they feel renewed and alive in this place.  It is what the Celtic Christians would call a ‘Thin Place’, a place where the veil between heaven and earth is thin and we feel the very Presence of the Divine, of Love, of grace.  For some who venture to Ebenezer Church, it is a pilgrimage where they are drawn and are expectant.  Others stumble onto the site and discover its wonder.

Sometimes we find our journey into enlightenment and wonder one in which we are drawn by a ‘seductive light’, something that lures us, promises something or demands our attention.  Other times we stumble through darkness and are surprised by wonder.  Often enlightenment and grace are found in very ordinary places that are imbued with Divine Presence and wonder.  Other times we find ourselves before true beauty or magnificence and it fills our being to overflowing with delight and awe.  I have had breathtaking and wondrous moments of awe walking along a simple track and seeing a tree, a simple but profound tree – or a flower or even the black snake I saw off the track the other day slithering with grace and delicacy.  The call of the birds – shrill of cockatoos, screech of parrots or the distinctive call of bellbirds.  The cuddle of the dog and his gentle lick as he looks into your eyes and seeks reassurance he is loved and safe.  A simple meal shared in love and grace or a conversation in which we are real and open.  The delight of music and a special song or piece that cuts through my being and moves me.  A story of courage and love, life and hope, justice and peace.  All these things and more are moments in which to behold the Presence of the Divine in, around and through me and the world – the gracious Presence of God!

This week we conclude the season of Christmas on Sunday, with its story of Magi (aka ‘Wise men’) who visit the infant Jesus (Matthew 2:1-12).  They are astrologers and read into the stars the birth of a new king and following a particular star end up off course in the Holy City of Jerusalem.  Foreign wise people may well expect a king to be born in a Holy City, a big city but they were wrong.  In a conversation with the local king, who consults his Jewish wise leaders, they are directed towards the insignificant, lowly village of Bethlehem.  King Herod was a local tyrant, jealous and vicious.  He asked them to come and report back after they found the king – he had evil intentions to murder his new rival!  They go and arrive at a house in the town where an infant lives with his parents and they bow before him, acknowledging that they are in the Presence of Divine wonder and awe.  They present gifts.  They then leave by another route, warned in a dream not to return to Herod.  Herod goes onto threaten all the male children in the region and the Holy Family flee as refugees into Egypt (as their ancestors did centuries earlier under another Joseph).

In this story the Magi discover wonder, awe and Divine Presence in an ordinary, lowly place.  It is an unanticipated place because it has little worth in the world’s eyes.  The humble family who become refugees are the antithesis of what we expect in a ‘royal family,’ or where we expect to find the Presence of God.  The Magi’s quest takes them away from power, privilege and into the lowly places where the presence of God takes form in the unrecognisable, the unimaginable and the vulnerable – a baby of poor parents in a backward place. Whatever it is they were seeking, they find what they want and need in this One in whom the Presence of God is revealed most deeply – and in vulnerable powerlessness.

May we seek wisdom, life and enlightenment in the simple and profound places of our world, expecting the unexpected God to be revealed in surprising and wondrous ways and forms – even when we least expect it.  For those who have eyes to see there will be light!

By geoffstevenson