Posted on: October 31, 2019, by :
Uluru at rest

Last week, on 26th October 2019, 34 years after its custodianship was handed back to the Anangu people, the climbing of Uluru became illegal. In the uncharacteristic stillness of the morning after the closure, Sammy Wilson, one of the traditional owners remarked, “The rock will be resting, so we will feel rested. We often ask, what is it [tourists] are looking for, in doing that [climbing]? We’d like to show them what the place is really about, and for them to learn and understand from Anangu.”

That day contrasted starkly with the hustle and bustle and chaos at the Rock in the weeks leading up to the closure. Many hundreds of people had flocked to Uluru to grab one last chance to climb the Rock, a pursuit that had long been recognised as being against the wishes of, and disrespectful to, the traditional owners. So why did they come? What drove people to ignore the pleas of the Anangu to respect their tradition and their reverence for this sacred place?

Could the lack of respect for Uluru be symptomatic of a broader loss of respect within our society for things once held special or sacred? And might that general loss of respect, in turn, reflect the diminution of some of the foundational values upon which civil society has been built? It certainly seems to me that civilisation is becoming less and less civil!

In the same week that Uluru closed to climbers, the President of the United States gloated publicly that one of his ‘enemies’ had ‘died like dog’. Blatantly uncivil language from the supposed leader of the civilised world! I have reflected previously in this space about the rise in booing at sporting events in Australia, also suggestive of an erosion of civilised behaviour. Other recent examples: the increase in violence toward women in our society, the inhumane treatment of retired racehorses, the high incidence of attacks on emergency service workers, the problem of bullying in schools, etc., etc..  It’s as though the more ‘sophisticated’ our society becomes, the less ‘civil’ it behaves.

Perhaps it’s an oversimplification of a complex situation, but I wonder whether the ridicule of religion – almost a sport amongst pop-culture commentators these days (and admittedly born out of the loss of credibility that institutional religion has brought upon itself) – might have robbed society of the capacity for the deeper spiritual and reflective practice that civil societies need for the proper formulation of ethics and behavioural codes. Religious or spiritual sensibilities have provided the foundation for virtually all the great civilisations in history; our post-modern world is increasingly suspicious and distrustful of such sensibilities. How might we reclaim a respect for religion and a space for honouring the sacred before it’s too late?

In my reflection About God last Sunday morning, I referenced this quote from Matthew Fox: It’s in our experience of awe that our souls awaken to something greater than ourselves. Many of us know this to be true – how a sunrise or sunset, a mountain or valley, an ocean or a desert, a flower or a bird, a baby or a centenarian, can stir something within us and ‘awaken’ us to that which is beyond us. This is the capacity for wonder, and I fear it is being lost or dampened as our society grows more and more cynical, more and more anxious, more and more risk-averse. One of the best things we can do, we who lament the loss of respect and reverence in our society, is to nurture the capacity for wonder. This may well be what Jesus meant when he pointed to children as signposts of God’s nearness: the capacity for wonder is a pathway to spiritual experience and a recipe for healthy, respectful and appropriately reverential communities.

And maybe a well-developed capacity for wonder might help us understand the Anangu respect for Uluru!

David Brooker.

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