Voice from the Abbey (Part 1)

July 24, 2023 | Reflections from Sr Antonia

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; … a time to keep silence and a time to speak.

Ecclesiastes 3: 1-7

In the lead up to the referendum on an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament there are many voices calling out to us. Too many voices result in confusion and fear… neither of which makes for sound judgment.

And while it is our duty to make sure that we are fully informed about the issues around The Voice, perhaps it is now time to be silent and to listen differently: to listen with the ear of our heart.  (Rule of St Benedict): to listen to the voice of God speaking within us. Isn’t this the voice we can trust? Isn’t this the only voice that matters? Isn’t this the voice we purport to follow as Christians?

The poet James McAuley once wrote:

Incarnate Word in whom all nature lives
raise up contemplatives among us
those who walk within the fire of ceaseless prayer,
impetuous desire.
Set pools of silence in this thirsty land.

And Miriam Rose Ungunmerr- Baumann a member of the Ngangiwumirr  language group, activist and 2021 Senior Australian of the year writes:

Our culture is different.
We are asking our fellow Australians
to take time to know us;
to be still and to listen to us.
– Miriam Rose Foundation

 … be still and listen to us.

Yes, there is a time for silence and a time to speak and perhaps what the world, and Australia in particular, needs now is silence so that we can quieten all the voices and listen instead to the voice of our First Nations Peoples. But even more importantly we need to listen to the voice of God.

We could well ask: where is God’s voice in this debate over the voice? Where do we hear it? The prophet Elijah knows:

…and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake, and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.    1Kings 19:12

The voice of God was not in the storm, nor was it in the rain or the wind. It was in the still small voice calling to Elijah as he stood at the door of his cave. The voice of God is in the still small voice that is the Holy Spirit speaking within each one of us. We will each know exactly what we are to do from God’s point of view if we can take a step back from the storm, from the wind, rain and fire the arguing, debating, bickering and ridiculing we are hearing from everywhere.

Scripture, especially the gospels, will indicate the way of justice, mercy and truth. Ponder it. Listen to it. The word from the past is present still in scripture and speaks to us today in our own situation.

We as Christians are called to wonder what God wants of us now in this land that was once called The Great South Land of the Holy Spirit – as the early Spanish explorers described it. We could wonder whether we are allowing the Holy Spirit to continue to be present to us

Why would we not want to value one of the longest continuing cultures on earth? And enable them to have a say in matters that affect their lives? That is all they are asking for, nothing more. And the Parliament will always be the final arbiter on any advice the Voice may offer the Parliament. That is how our Constitution works.

The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats it’s most vulnerable members wrote the American writer and novelist Pearl Buck (1892-1973). I believe the referendum question is a moral issue.

The Voice to Parliament is something the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are asking for after years of deliberations.  The Voice to Parliament is not something that any government or political party has concocted. This is a matter of conscience; of reckoning between the past, the present and the future. Dr. Ed Wensing Honorary Research Fellow, Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research (CAEPR), ANU

Perhaps we could ask ourselves what would Jesus do. The way forward is to ask Jesus to shine a light into the darkness of any doubts we may have: To hand it over to God and let God be our guide. It may be difficult for us to let go of our doubts and unconscious biases, and if so, we should listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit. Let the Holy Spirit be our guide when we stand in the ballot box because the vote we cast is between ourselves and our conscience.

Perhaps through this referendum we can make this land the Great South Land of the Holy Spirit once more. God help us if we fail in this.

What would Jesus do?