Do not turn your face away

Over the past few months our television screens and newspapers have been filled with appalling stories of brutality visited upon children – Palestinian children dying in the Gaza Strip; children butchered by members of the Islamic State; children trapped in Australian-managed detention centres with no hope of freedom; adults recalling the sexual abuse they endured as children in public hearings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse ; children kidnapped and murdered by Islamic extremist group Boko Harem in Nigeria. Sometimes there are no words to express the pain in our hearts.

Michael Donnelly’s painting, A Bedtime Prayer painted in 1994 speaks into this current time. God does not turn God’s face away. We too must not turn our faces away. We hope that this painting, Michael’s words, Jennie Gordon’s prayer and the Moderator’s reflection will assist to guide you through this deeply troubled world.


A bedtime prayer

By Michael Donnelly

Twenty years ago, once all three of our children were asleep at night, if my wife or I put our heads in their bedroom we would hear their breathy little snores. The quiet burble of an electric vaporiser would be issuing a steady stream of eucalyptus-scented steam.

Melbourne’s dry autumnal air played havoc with our young children’s breathing, particularly at night. The vaporiser provided some relief with its soothing humidity. Oddly, the clunky apparatus also embodied, for me, our prayers for our children and a visible reminder that God was watching over them as they slept. As I worked feverishly towards an exhibition subtitled “Living and Dying in Melbourne”*, the subject begged to be included in the show.

As I worked on the canvas to capture the effect of the pillar of light bathing the three youngsters sleeping in the small room, reminiscent of the Israelites’ guardian, something outside my Australian middle-class comprehension was happening in Africa.
From early April 1994 the nation of Rwanda imploded and massacred itself. The international community responded too slowly to save nearly one million people.

Horrific accounts appeared in the news with heart-wrenching images. The unfolding genocide called into question who we were as humans and, for the Church, where was our God?

Bewildered, I wondered how I could pray to God about the safety and well-being of my own children in suburban Melbourne when this was denied to so many in Rwanda.

I felt very uncomfortable by my “A Bedtime Prayer”, and decided it could not be exhibited as a single panel composition of domesticity. An image of Rwandan orphans huddled together, sick and dying called out to me as a fitting rejoinder and formed the basis of a new left hand panel. An SOS emitting from the TV screen outside the children’s bedroom door.

That was twenty years ago and a question that kept being asked at the time was “had we as a global community learnt nothing from earlier events in the twentieth century?”

Sadly, it seems the question is still a relevant one now in the 21st Century, as again we fail to hear what history cries out on behalf of its sufferers. It has been almost twenty years since I exhibited “A Bedtime Prayer” in its entirety. Perhaps it is time to show it again.

Michael Donnelly is a Melbourne-based artist and teacher. He has held numerous solo exhibitions since 1984 and participated in group exhibitions in Australia and the USA. Michael is a member of the Ashburton Uniting Church and is involved in the Uniting Church’s Artist’s Network.
If you would like to see “A Bedtime Prayer” it will be on display in the Chapel of the Synod office at 130 Little Collins Street until 26 September. His next solo exhibition is at Chapel on Station Gallery in Box Hill from 30 Oct – 12 Nov, 2014.
*Michael Donnelly, “The Melbourne Pictures: Living and Dying in Melbourne” Roar.2 Studios, Fitzroy, Sept/Oct 1994.



Spirit of our God
who broods over waters
bringing life out of darkness
and order out of chaos
do not turn your face away

sweep over cities, hills and valleys
break in to where madness and disarray
holds sway
cross borders of fear and pain
and do not turn your face away

lend welcome breath
where cries are silenced
lifting hope like smoke rising
from the pyre of suffering
and do not turn your face away

install the lost in your embrace
join one to one again with cords of love
throw peace like a hand-sewn quilt
over all, gathering the children in,
and do not turn your face away

and we will do so too
midwife of life, in your power,
we will brood, sweep, break in,
lift hope, sew peace
and we will not turn our face away


Rev Jennie Gordon


Share Button



Comments are closed.