Heart too full of grief for sleeping
I lay my head on a rock hard pillow
without hope of rest
These are the opening lines to ‘The Dream’ a poem written by Rev Christine MacDowall as part of her collection Lightly on the Earth. Featuring a mixture of poetry and images, including the photography of Jeannette Cossio, the book is an artistic expression of the grief experienced by the Brighleigh Uniting Church following divestment.
Christine responded to the announcement that the church building was to be divested as part of the Synod’s Uniting our future sell off of property by organising the creation of a labyrinth on the Brighleigh church tennis court. In the introduction to the book she describes how following a Service of Lament she had a dream. The poem quoted above is an allegory for that experience that draws on the story of Jacob in the desert.
“The actual image where the words came from was Jacob”, Christine said, “when he put his head on a stone and slept and saw the ladder going up to Heaven, with the angels coming up and down. This is the time when he makes an altar to God in the middle of the desert. He then sleeps, puts his head on a rock, sleeps and the rock itself becomes a portal for him to see the angel.
“I thought about that, about a pillow feeling so hard and uncompromising.”
The dream gave Christine and her congregation a fresh purpose, constructing the labyrinth out of small stones as a therapeutic activity that allowed them to process the experience of divestment. Throughout our discussion Christine used the expression ‘home-church’, an indication of the church as a community’s centre. In the labyrinth that desire for a centre found new expression.
“The building suddenly was a building”, said Christine. “I loved the building. I loved working there. I loved the people and working with them.” The building and the people were about to be separated.
“The beauty of it was that the divestment really affected the whole Synod. Everybody that you spoke to had some connection. When Brightleigh heard that we were going to be divested, people said ‘what can we do? Call us, tell us what we can do, we can lift pews.’ And there really was nothing that we could give people to do. And then – here’s the labyrinth. If you can, come and walk the labyrinth.
“The idea is that you have to trust that you will get to the centre. The centre will always be there. There was a time when I thought – I should be at the centre, I’ve gone off the track here – and I still had to keep walking and the centre was always there. You just have to trust. And once you put your trust in the fact that you will find the centre then it frees you to let go of the thoughts, or the anxieties, or the worries, or the questions that you were holding, you could open yourself to it.
“I knew in the end I would come to the centre. It’s the end of the journey and then there’s the pause and then it’s the beginning of the return. So you’ve got these three phases and they do rely on you trusting and sometimes that uncertainty still exists after you have walked this labyrinth fifty times. Have I stepped outside the line. But no you haven’t, just trust it and keep going.”
Lightly on the Earth will be launched on 14 May, at Springvale Uniting Church from 2pm – 4pm, cnr. of Albert and Balmoral. Donations will be welcome, with the proceeds going to to the Flying Doctors. RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org