Worship in the spiritual winter


The Australian winter days can be full of light, but the coming of night signals darkness and cold.  Storms, rain and winds add their own starkness.  Even the moon offers a chilling luminescence.  During the final year of my father’s slow dying he came to be afraid as the winter sunset approached.  He would fret and bother, and worry if my mother was not home yet.  The coming of the dark brooded ill for him, as if another visitor was about to come knocking, calling for him while he remained unwilling to go.

He was not alone in his private darkness.  It is shared across the Australian spiritual landscape, and in particular gives shape to our winterscape.  It takes many forms.  The Australian soul exhibits its winter season in the silent anxieties that signal deeper scars. 

Usually unspoken, they are a part of us all.  But we are not a winter people, so we do not dwell there long, though we are apt to acknowledge a certain unannounced fellowship with those who have like experiences.

And so to the unspoken.  There are the silences of war: its violence, brutality, boredom, randomness, and mindless waste.  Publicly these surface at ANZAC day, or in books and movies. 

Yet the experiences have been held in secret by the generations who were caught up in the two world conflagrations, the Korean and Vietnam wars and the many other and continuing conflicts.  The disruption to goodness, justice and ordinariness has been carried by ex soldiers, POWs, distraught families, refugees, homeless migrants, concentration camp survivors and others still unknown. 

The effects have been passed down to the upcoming generations, but the underlying experiences have remained in silence, too hard to tell and to unwelcome for the children to be able to hear.

There are the silences of migration, whether by plane, boat, asylum passage.  It is only recently that newcomers to this shore have seen Australia as a first choice land of opportunity.  For long, and still for some, it was a land far distant, devoid of culture and civilization, but a place that would receive them. 

There is much silent grief as ties with the homeland are cut.  There is further mourning as children then forsake the languages, ethnicity and customs of their parents and seek out a new, sunny future.

There is the ongoing silence of the history and suppression of the first peoples of this land, the people who describe the land as ‘mother’ and who have found themselves displaced culturally and dispossessed physically.

A fourth silence is that of the land itself.  We have not read it aright, and so much of it is dying, thirsting, blown out, burnt out, bedeviled with feral pests, and bereft of once thriving flora and fauna.  The loss of so much diverse life is leaving our land silent, without birdsongs, clawing marsupials, lazing lizards and busy insects.  It will remain in the silence we have imposed upon it.

We must take these silences to worship.  Not to replace them with noise, but to allow the experiences and realities that brood during the winter to come to light, warmth and acceptance.  We need liturgies that work reconciliation and healing into our inner selves, as individuals and as a nation.  And where it is still too difficult we need a capacity to lament; a fulsome lament of biblical character (see Ps 22).

– Assoc. Prof. Gerard Moore is Lecturer in Worship and Practical Theology at the Catholic Institute of Sydney. Flickr Creative Commons image.