This month’s journey to Australia was my “invisible gift” to my beloved, who wanted no tangible thing for his 50th. His yearning was to be in the presence of long-lost family. It’s a long story and not mine to tell.
My own impressions of Australia are eucalyptus scented, dappled with the wavy lines and little dots displayed in souvenir shops on mugs and t-shirts, boomerangs and mouse-pads, as aboriginal in origin (though frequently manufactured in China).
As I came to learn, the wavy lines and little dots are “dreamings” – ancient maps of the journeys of the ancestors. As they went on “walkabout” the ancestors sang into existence each living thing, each feature of the landscape, including those through which they themselves entered and left the land.
The songs have been sung for thousands of years, inherited whenever a child “quickened” – first moved in its mother’s belly. The place where she stood in that moment became forever the place where the song rose to sing into being the child! And the child became the inheritor of that song, of the ancestor’s journey, and therefore of the landscape and the creatures upon it.
And since the ancestors had made many journeys across the land, there were many intersections of song and of responsibility for its renewal.
After reading this in a book I picked up along the way, the visual patterns of those songs, the wavy lines and little dots I’d seen in the souvenir shops, began to superimpose themselves upon the landscape through which I moved as a visitor, creating a densely woven web of beauty and purpose.
To know oneself as keeper of the song, keeper of the dreaming, keeper of the land, from the moment of one’s own quickening…what an inheritance that must be!
During a long drive along the southern coast road, west of Melbourne, I realized that I had received the same inheritance through the teachings of Christianity. The primary difference was that recognizing and owning the inheritance involved a journey through the terrain of the trinity, complicated by creed carved in stone, the rubble of insurrection and resurrection. This Christian landscape I discovered I could not navigate.
For many years thereafter I wandered alone, until I heard a different kind of song. One upon which I journey still.
As koalas perched in the forks of eucalyptus trees gave way to the wide expanse of blue-green ocean, the tour guide called our attention to where we were. “Look out the window and notice your identity”, he said.
It seemed an odd turn of a phrase. I thought he must have misspoken. But he used that same word: “identity”, again and again, to situate us within the landscape. When asked about this, the guide seemed perplexed – unaware that he had said anything unusual, but acknowledging that he might have picked up that phraseology as a child, living in a remote aboriginal community.
So, identity was synonymous with location! It made sense. An aboriginal child’s identity was forever linked with the location of its quickening, the place in which the spirit of life leapt into it as a song, as a dreaming.
Why shouldn’t our own identities be linked with the places in which our spirits are renewed?!
I am home now. Grateful for the journey which continues now on familiar soil, my thoughts are drawn to other places in which I have heard the song/seen the dreaming, in which I have felt the spirit of life enter me.
I recall the places that have filled my life with beauty and purpose, and know that I am indeed keeper of that landscape, that inheritance, and that I cannot travel it alone. For it clearly intersects with yours.
So here I stand – asking if you will sing it into renewed existence with me.
Keeping in your heart all that has perished in the eucalyptus-fed flames this past week. May life arise again from those ashes.