Diana and I are currently in Australia for the Christian Initiation Australia Network (CIAN) National Conference, which will be held October 6-9, 2016. While we are here, we have been blessed with opportunities to speak with RCIA leaders in several dioceses around Australia.
Last week, I flew north from Sydney to the Diocese of Armidale to speak with the 25 priests there. They are a very dedicated and pastoral group of men. We covered a lot of issues dealing with RCIA in a rural setting with limited resources. We talked about ways pastors could discern the needs of seekers when they first inquire about becoming Catholic and how to use the parish itself as the formation resource for the catechumens and candidates.
On the flight to Armadale, I saw this view of the landscape.
It reminded me of some of the Dreamtime paintings of the Aboriginal people/s. The spiritual beliefs of the Aboriginal people/s are the oldest continuous belief system in the world, dating back 50,000 to 60,000 years. Their spirituality and culture continue to develop today, and contemporary artists use many forms to express meaning and continue the stories of the Aboriginal people/s.
We saw this painting at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne. It was created by a collective of Aboriginal women in 2008.
It tells the Dreamtime story of Tjintirtjintir (Willy Wagtail Woman) who was travelling through the Great Victoria Desert. She dreamed of lightning and woke to see a looming black cloud. A thunderous hailstorm erupted, causing her to make an emergency dash towards Piltitjara, an area close by. Tjintirtjintir was struck down and killed by giant hail stones. The multitude of holes surrounding the large rock hole of the area represent the hailstones that killed the Willy Wagtail Woman.
Dreamtime is a difficult concept to explain in English. It is a reference to the Aboriginal explanation of Creation. But it is not a past event, as we might think of Creation in Genesis. It is more of an ongoing reality as we might think of God’s constant creation and recreation of the cosmos.
Dreamtime and Judeo-Christian Creation stories are not exclusive of each other. When Pope John Paul II visited the Aboriginal people/s in Australia in 1986, he said:
Some of the stories from your Dreamtime legends speak powerfully of the great mysteries of human life, its frailty, its need for help, its closeness to spiritual powers and the value of the human person. They are not unlike some of the great inspired lessons from the people among whom Jesus himself was born. It is wonderful to see how people, as they accept the Gospel of Jesus, find points of agreement between their own traditions and those of Jesus and his people.
Learning the spirituality and traditions of the original people/s of this Country is not really possible for outsiders. It reminds me somewhat of our Christian initiation process. We can “explain” a lot about what it means to live as a disciple of Jesus. But you really have to live the disciplines of the faith in order to know what it fully means to be a Christian.
So we find ourselves as respectful guests in this sacred land, knowing that everywhere we walk, an ancient people has been here before us and is still walking here, Dreaming the world into being.