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Where spirituality and justice meet

Thursday, 23 November 2023  | Brooke Prentis



’But ask the animals, and they will teach you,
 or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you;
or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,
 or let the fish in the sea inform you.
Which of all these does not know
 that the hand of the Lord has done this?
10 In his hand is the life of every creature
 and the breath of all mankind.

(Job 12:7-10)


It is a Bible passage I have written theologically on in my chapter, ‘What Can the Birds of the Land Tell Us?’, in the book, Grounded in the Body, in Time and Place, in Scripture: Papers by Australian Women Scholars in the Evangelical Tradition. It is a Bible passage that has long been a favourite and speaks to my Aboriginal heart. It connects with my Aboriginal culture and the teachings of the Elders. It reminds me of our Aboriginal cultural practice of deep listening.

Some would be familiar with the work of Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann from the Ngangi-Kuri-Kurr peoples, who was the 2021 Senior Australian of the year. In her (Ngan’gikurunggurr and Ngen’giwumirri) languages the word for deep listening is dadirri. Peter Smith, Kamilaroi man, also does work on deep listening, and in the Kamilaroi language deep listening is winanga-li. Each of our over 300 nations would have had our own word in our own language for deep listening. My description of deep listening is listening with ears, eyes, mind, heart and whole being.

Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann says:

Dadirri is inner, deep listening and quiet, still awareness…. Aboriginal peoples have lived for thousands of years with Nature’s quietness. Dadirri is our most unique gift. It is perhaps the greatest gift we can give to our fellow Australians.

It was with deep listening, dadirri, and Job 12:7-10 that I packed my bags and joined a pilgrimage across these lands now called Australia.

On 29 September 2023, a month-long pilgrimage to listen to First Nations peoples with a focus on Creation Care was held by the Wellspring Community with the Co-Leaders of Wellspring, Lisa Wriley and Joy Connor, and with the Rev. Ruth Harvey, the leader of the Iona Community.

The Wellspring Community was founded in 1992 and is about ‘where spirituality and justice meet’, an Australia-wide Christian ecumenical community inspired by the Iona Community. The Iona Community is a dispersed community of people working for peace and justice.

I embarked on the pilgrimage open, and perhaps intrigued, to see where spirituality and justice meet in these lands now called Australia.

The pilgrimage began in Boorloo, Perth, and especially started as we stepped off the boat on Wadjemup, Rottnest Island (pictured below).

The Pilgrimage had us walk softly and gently on these ancient lands now called Australia across Noongar Country, Kaurna Country, Ngarrindjeri Country, Arrentre Country, Wurundjeri and Boonwurrung Country, Gunai Kurnai Country, Ngunnawal and Ngambri Country, Cammeraygal Country of the Eora nation, Gundungarra and Dharug Country, Gadigal Country of the Eora nation, Darkinjung and GuriNgai Country and Turrabul and Yuggera Country, and finishing on 1 November 2023 on Quandamooka Country. So that is to Perth, Rottnest Island, Adelaide, Raukkan, Mwparntwe/Alice Springs, Naarm/Melbourne, Gragin/Raymond Island, Gippsland, Canberra, Chatwood, Warrang/Sydney, the Blue Mountains, the Central Coast, Newcastle, Meanjin/Brisbane, The Gap Brisbane and Coochiemudlo Island. From Western Australia to South Australia, to the Northern Territory, to Victoria, to the ACT, to New South Wales, to Queensland.

Many people of all cultures joined us on the way and we were led by incredible Aboriginal Traditional Owners and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Leaders. I take a moment to honour all of these leaders and encourage you to get to know them: Uncle Neville Collard, Della Rae Morrison, Uncle Frank Wanganeen, Uncle Allen Edwards, Uncle Nelson Varcoe, Bishop Chris McLeod, Uncle Clyde Rigney, Aunty Rosemary Rigney, Uncle Ken Sumner, Aunty Bev O’Callaghan, Dr Kathleen Wallace, Shirleen McLaughlin, Aunty Elaine, Doreen, Rob Morrisson, Rev Canon Rhyllis Andy, Rev Kathy Dalton, Cath Thomas, Shay, Uncle Tony Linton, Aunty Sally Fitzgerald, Samantha Faulkner, Uncle Dr Pastor Ray Minniecon, Aunty Ali Golding, Aunty Beryl Oploo, David ‘Dingo’ King, Tim Selwyn, Aunty Jean Phillips and Uncle Alex Davidson.

Where did spirituality and justice meet? On Country and in community. Country, in its Aboriginal use and as I describe and teach it, is all lands, waters, sky, trees, plants, animals, birds, fish, rocks and mountains, and all peoples. Those peoples joined together in community. Spirituality and justice met in times like on Wadjemup, where the cuteness of the Quokka called with the clinking of the chains and the haunting of the Aboriginal prisoners, where tourists unknowingly cycle past an Aboriginal burial ground. Or on Kaurna Country, where the Eastern Rosella called me to the water springs of the tears of Tjilbruke Dreaming, the white ibis, and brought together creation and the sadness of the Pool of Tears and the grieving mother at Colebrook Stolen Generations home. Or at the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture in front of the Holy Spirit, the white owl, of the Gija people. Or sitting beside Samantha Faulkner, hearing poetry of the Torres Strait Islands filled with the terror of the effects of rising sea levels on land, language and culture. Or the lookouts with the grasstrees and the rocks and the mountains on Gundangarra Country in the Blue Mountains. Or the fish of Sydney Harbour recalling the woman Barangaroo of the Eora Fisherwoman on Gadigal Country. Or the critically endangered, Far Eastern Curlew, whose wetlands are at risk of being destroyed due to a property development on Quandamooka Country.

Job 12:7-10 is also information as we hear the terms creation care, climate change, climate crisis and climate emergency. Being led by First Nations peoples we hear strength, resilience and courage, a need for coming together and building relationship, but also of urgency.

How will you listen to and be led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, the world’s oldest, living, continuing cultures, and care for creation? As an invitation and a challenge, as the Elders say, ‘Care for Country and Country will call for you’.


For more information visit:

Wellspring: Facebook: @wellspringaustralia, Instagram: @wellspringcommunity_australia and website: wellspring-community.com/.

Iona Community: Facebook: @ionacommunity, Instagram: @ionacommunity and website: iona.org.uk/.

Brooke Prentis is a Wakka Wakka woman, Aboriginal Christian Leader, Wellspring Community member and Coordinator of the Grasstree Gathering. She is at @brookeprentis.official on Facebook and Instagram and her website is www.brookeprentis.com.


Image credits: Brooke Prentis.

On Gadigal Country / Glebe at Scarred Tree Indigenous Ministries with Uncle Rev Dr Ray Minniecon.

Wadjemup, Noongar Country / Rottnest Island.

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