The desert is green. GREEN! So easy on the eyes, verdant, full of life and promise. Soaked clay pans, full to the brim, glint upwards like so many bronze mirrors. From the air the country is mesmerizingly beautiful; so absorbing that I am startled by something stranger yet: in the distance great sheets of water; salt lakes, blue and white, as far as the eye can see. And now and then the prize, so rare, something I’ve scarcely ever seen: rivers running in the wilderness! My God, what a sight!
“Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs” (Isaiah 35).
Days later I am traversing the green desert by road on our way to Blackstone and Easter Convention. Travelling squeezed across the front of a Landcruiser with two aboriginal men brings back many memories, and I realise how long it has been since I’ve done such things. I instinctively reach for the seatbelt, “Wiya wandi”, I am cautioned, “slow one-ba, you don’t need ’im; we just goin’ steady.” And yet as soon as we are settled in the car I am prompted: “Maybe … you can press that button now?” – lock the door! I want to laugh at the contradiction (perhaps you did?) but incongruence reminds me that I am a guest here, I am treading on holy ground, and there are ways unique and too wonderful for me to understand. I feel safe; I am in good hands as we travel through country that no one knows better. It is a privilege to have every water hole and windmill pointed out; along with the necessary details of whose country we are passing, what happened here at some past time, who lives where and how they are related to each of my companions.
It saddens me to realize how readily I have allowed our worlds to separate. Black and white touching, but rarely merging. How often does a white person travel in an aboriginal car? When have I needed a black man’s help? The white fella travels through Central Australia equipped for every contingency – I’ve done it myself – with shovels, jacks, water tanks and antennae bristling from every corner of our vehicles. We must have all been Boy Scouts: Be Prepared! And why not? It can get tough out here pretty quickly.
But today the pretence of my independence has been shattered. My wheelchair-bound waltz through Blackstone Community is a Divine Comedy demolishing my self-sufficiency and bringing me gloriously close to my brothers. The church ground is not far from the where I am camped; I can see the bough shed fronting the corrugated-iron and steel-mesh chapel from my window. But the distance is nigh on impossible. More than once I have found myself stranded in the hot sun, waiting on the road for rescue from a passerby.
“Brother, I need your help.”
And while this is a personal reflection, I think I am not alone. Indeed I was somehow reassured to listen to an aboriginal friend tell me – more than once – that everyone was staring at him “… really strange, pushing this white bloke’s wheelchair around the store doin’ his shopping. Hey! What’s he doin’ that for?”
Occasionally a moment of transcendence comes to most of us, perhaps when our eyes are unusually opened, or because we are caught in events too big for our own comprehension. It gets a bit like that when you are walking (or wheeling!) on holy ground……….
A Blackstone man spoke in church. Although my thin grasp of Ngaanyatjarra gave me the gist of where he was going, I was missing much of it. Suddenly his speaking became so evocative that I felt I knew exactly what he was saying, without knowing the words. Hearing his spirit rather than his thought. My spirit was deeply moved.
At dawn on Easter Sunday we gathered in the bough shed to sing and remember the power of resurrection. Tiny, hopeful drops of rain fell on us in the pale gold of sunrise.
Later the church met around the Lord’s Table – something that hasn’t happened here in years. Surrounded by the tangible distress of community life, knowing well the depths of sadness in the lives around us, and dealing with the uncertainty of my own life; there came nonetheless an experience of extraordinary confidence, knowing beyond knowledge that there is order, purpose, hope and victory in and above everything.
This afternoon storm clouds broke over Blackstone. Lightning flashed, a torrent fell, kids ran wild, and the earth released its amazing aroma of renewal. In the sky a rainbow arch of promise embraced the community.
Honestly, I am immersed in things unique and too wonderful for me!