Monday, February 11, 2008

Land of our ancestors

The world’s largest forest of River Red Gum trees was not far away from where I lived in Australia. The trees grew on the banks of the River Murray, a river which was about 40-50m wide at the point where I used to park the car.

I used to love to visit the Barmah Forest, as the forest was called. It was so beautiful and peaceful that I would regularly go there for a day, just to pray. It was easy to pray in such magnificent surroundings. It was easy to see why the Australian Aborigines, the first inhabitants of Australia, saw the forest as a sacred place. God just seemed to be everywhere. For thousands of years, Aborigines had done just as I was doing. They had gone into the forest to be close to God and their spirit ancestors.

The River Red Gum trees are very special. They need to be flooded each year to a depth of 1m. or else the trees die. So, every year, the forest becomes an immense lake, far too deep to enter with any degree of safety. The flood waters had travelled down from the distant Snowy Mountains in order to give life to the forest, the animals and the fish of the Barmah Forest.

The trees are also interesting because some of them bear the marks of where Aborigines removed bark in order to make shields and household items. They were very clever. They removed the bark in such a way that the trees were never damaged.

The Aborigines believed that the land did not belong to them. They belonged to the land, which they saw as their father and mother. They had no private property or land. Everything belonged to everybody and everything. Even a stone had as much right to its existence as the people who might use it. Therefore, everything had to be treated with respect.

Yet the Aborigines themselves, people who had lived in Australia for 40,000 years, were themselves hunted almost to extinction. They lived in perfect harmony with Creation, lived in an incredibly close relationship with God, and yet they could be murdered without a second thought.

Thank God, today Australians are trying hard to give every Aborigine their full rights as Australian citizens…but what happens in other countries across the world? Do we give every person we meet the respect and dignity they deserve? Do we treat each individual as someone created and loved by God? Do we respect their history and traditions if they are different from our own? How do we look at the land on which we have our houses or our businesses? Do we look on it as a sacred gift of God, to be cared for and passed on to future generations? How did our ancestors care for the land? Do we respect the teachings and traditions they have handed down to us?

Lord, today we thank you for the richness you have given to us through our own culture and traditions. We thank you for our ancestors who gave us life. We praise you for the beauty of your Creation. We ask you to help us to do nothing to disfigure your work. We thank you for the wonders of your Creation. Amen.

God bless,

Sr. Janet