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Reshaping questions of faith

The Season of Creation is a period of prayer and reflection inviting renewed commitment to the world around us. This year’s themes (September 4-25) focused on Oceans, Flora and Fauna, Storms and the Cosmos. A Blessing of the Animals (October 2) coincided with commemoration of saints Francis and Clare of Assisi.

Celebrations at South Sydney Uniting Church included symbolic table settings, contemporary songs and prayers. The special themes enabled fresh insights and reshaped questions of faith.

On Ocean Sunday we read from the Book of Job. The God who appears to Job in flashing images of power and beauty evokes the sea – tumbling, shifting the shoreline, smoothing the rocks – the sea’s paradoxical power to make calm – a creativity beyond the certainties of reason and morality. Job says to God: “Formerly I knew you only by word of mouth, but now I see you with my own [ocean] eyes”. Everything looks different after such an encounter.

Our reading from Luke’s gospel depicted disciples in a boat on the Sea of Galilee. Two symbols caught our attention: “the deep” and “a new kind of fishing”.

Amazing fact: In the ocean’s shadowy twilight zone, between 600 and 800 metres beneath the surface, there are fish that gaze upwards through their transparent heads with eyes like emerald orbs. These domes are huge spherical lenses that sit on a pair of long, silvery eye tubes – hence its common name, the barreleye fish.

On Flora and Fauna Sunday we read the familiar words of Jesus about ravens, wildflowers and grass (Luke 12), noting evocative phrases: “more than food”, “more than clothing”, “more (to) value”, “more (to) caring”. Wisdom invites our giving up a certain “worry” (self-centred, short-sighted) in favour of a certain “giving” (as carers and fellow creatures).

We also looked at several landscape paintings by Idris Murphy, for whom a tree is more than a tree. It is part of a living and moving world – in relation to the sky and soil, the birds and animals at home with and within it, in relation to light, colour and shadow, the “alive-ness” of the picture, the memory and creativity of the artist. Murphy says: “The tree is no impression … but is bodied all over against me and has to do with me, as I with it – only in a different way.”

Amazing fact: It’s hard to overstate the importance of trees. Their debut more than 300 million years ago was a turning point for Earth, helping transform its surface into a bustling utopia for land animals.

Storm Sunday brought opportunity to reflect on a prize-winning artwork by Blak Douglas. “Moby Dickens” depicts Wiradjuri artist Karla Dickens in the context of recent floods in her hometown.

“It just happens that I was there in Lismore immediately after the first deluge in February and saw the shock and horror on people’s faces,” Douglas said. “Karla had just reached a pivotal point in her career and almost immediately the flood catastrophe happened. So, when she should have been excited about where her career was going, she was harbouring three families in Lismore as part of her own rescue mission.”

Dickens said: “The painting shows a grumpy white sperm whale in muddy water ready to rip the leg off any fool with a harpoon who dares come too close. The painting not only has an incredible likeness to me and my mood in the last months, but this killer work pays homage to each and every person who has found themselves knee deep in mud, physically, emotionally, mentally and financially after the natural disaster that has destroyed so many lives in the Northern Rivers of NSW and beyond. Let art be our witness …”

Storms can be epiphanies (events of sudden realisation or revelation). The answers are blowing in the wind … all around us, calling us to care wisely (for one another, for the Earth in its electric glory), to create and build wisely (to help build resilience and biodiversity).

Amazing fact: There are, on average, approximately 100 lightning strikes per second across the planet.

On Cosmos Sunday we read from John’s gospel where Jesus says he is the “living bread come down from heaven”. We considered the meaning of this – in terms of generosity, humility, courage – via Wisdom theology and Stoic concepts of the Logos embodied in the true Sage, and so on – and moved to consider ourselves the living bread from heaven.

For we are all children of the cosmos. We are all made of stardust. We are elemental. We are miraculous.

Amazing fact: The James Webb is NASA’s largest and most powerful space science telescope, designed to capture infrared light emitted by stars and galaxies formed over 13.5 billion years ago.

Regarding the Greek verb meno, “to abide” (a key term in John’s gospel), and alongside a comment piece by ABC analyst Stan Grant (on the sadness and anger of First Nations people), we concluded that the following abide and hold us together: Jesus and bread; Wisdom and the cross; the unveiling of empire and the revealing light of love; salvation histories and sovereign lands; the ways of Creation and community.

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