November 2014

The coming of God

These days where would we look for the coming of God, asks Good Samaritan Sister Pam Grey.

BY Pam Grey SGS

Lake Mungo National Park in the far south-western corner of New South Wales has a history and a landscape that is awe-inspiring. Forty thousand years ago Mungo Man and Mungo Woman and their community thrived on the banks of the lake. However, the coming of the Ice Age had a profound effect on the life of the people, their land and the lake.

What I witnessed on my tour of Lake Mungo National Park were the sandy jagged features of an ancient landscape. It was breathtakingly bleak, yet beautiful. I wondered how anything could survive in this dry, bleached land.

Then dark clouds gathered and behind a dune I stumbled across not the ‘burning bush’, but the purple bush. The sight of the rosy sand against the green and purple of the bush stopped me in my tracks. Indeed it was an Advent moment.

I had witnessed “the desert rejoicing and the flowers blooming in the wilderness” (Isaiah 35:I). These are the biblical portents for the coming of God.

These days where would we look for the coming of God?

Perhaps some would hope that Pope Francis’ calling of a Synod on the Family would witness the coming of God where reconciliation and compassion could restore human relationships.

Others, particularly those in Pacific nations who are witnessing the rising of the sea level on their shores, may place their hope in the deliberations of climate change conferences, so that justice may cause nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and hence limit global temperature increases.

Women and children affected by the misery of family violence may witness the coming of God in the voice and passion of Victorian woman, Rosie Batty, whose personal advocacy shines a powerful light on the cruelty that goes on behind closed doors. Rosie reveals that one in three women and one in four children are affected by family violence. Alarmingly, Rosie also reveals that one woman a week dies as the result of family violence.

A most urgent cry of “Where is God?” may be heard in the villages and towns of Western Africa, as thousands of people bury their loved ones. As well as causing death, the symptoms of Ebola disease are greatly feared. Stigma and a palpable sense of abandonment are felt by those affected. Some nations are isolating themselves by closing down their borders and not allowing medical staff to travel to Africa and share their specialist knowledge, in case they become infected with Ebola and return home with it.

What may be impeding a global compassionate response? Perhaps it’s because political institutions construct the shape compassion will take. On a more personal level, a compassionate response may be thwarted by an experience of disgust or fear at the sight of human vulnerability. We look away.

By the end of October it was estimated that 75 per cent of Ebola victims were women and many of the 4,000 orphaned children were being shunned by those around them. It sounds grim, doesn’t it? Yet there are compassionate people who continue to tend the sick and bury the dead.

One headline caught my attention: HOW EBOLA PUNISHES PEOPLE FOR BEING COMPASSIONATE. Two epidemiologists working in Western Africa said “the worst part of witnessing the outbreak firsthand was seeing how mercilessly Ebola punished anyone who cared”.

In Western Africa there are nurses, medicos and support people who keep on working under very difficult circumstances. There are people who never turn their back when someone needs their care. There are those who carry the wounded to a place of safety.

What encourages a compassionate response in a complex world? In her book, Not For Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities, Martha Nussbaum, Professor of Law and Ethics, suggests “it requires the ability to think critically: the ability to transcend local loyalties and to approach world problems as a ‘citizen of the world’: and, finally, the ability to imagine sympathetically the predicament of another person.”

A sense of our common humanity is heightened when we hear stories and see images of families who are homeless, destitute and suffering. Compassion especially flows for abandoned orphans.

Jesus wept. He wept and then he acted. He healed and then he taught about the kingdom where God reigns. “When the Lord comes it is to judge the nations, to set the earth aright, restoring the world to order” (Psalm 96).

As we reflect on our world today we may ask: Where is mercy shown? Where is justice delivered to those most in need? In which assemblies are peace and reconciliation prime values? Which governments put humanities and science before economic theories? Under which circumstances do human beings and the planet thrive? Where is hope to be found?

Hope is activated when we pray “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”, because we are making ourselves available and disposable to the depth of God’s love for the world.

Today’s ‘burning bush’ may be witnessed in desolate situations where communities and individuals are trying to make a difference. These compassionate people bring hope and healing. Such people are like the Emmaus disciples – their hearts are burning within them (Luke 24:32). Let us stay awake for God’s coming is certain.

Pam Grey

Melbourne-based Good Samaritan Sister Pam Grey is a writer and poet. She also volunteers as a home tutor for newcomers to Australia who need language and resettlement support.

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