Pray the Land
Earlier in the spring in the southern hemisphere I walked ‘on country.’ This is a term used by Aboriginal Australians. For our first nation peoples it naturally implies being in relationship with country. Listening and learning in country, caring for country. I have adopted it- out of respect- and humility.
I went, with a joy and cry in my being. Joy, in the effortless experience of waking up inside the dawn, and an anguish at the increasing loss of diversity on earth and land. The extinction of our mammals at an alarming rate. How to surrender this – what is it mirroring?
It was wildflower season. In this part of the world, the south west of Australia, isolated for millions of years by desert and oceans, it is recognized as a world biodiversity ‘hotspot.’ In one area, it is likened to a rain forest for its remarkable diversity, except there is only two hundred millimetres average rainfall.
Stepping onto a trail to take us down into the river gorge was like walking down an aisle to a wedding ceremony—all three kilometres was exploding with flowers wild to the area—over four hundred species. The dead sheltering the emerging, shrubs so prolific, their branches laden, drooping and dripping with arbours of laced pink bottle brush like flowers.
How so this diversity? I read in a wild flower pamphlet “In this semi arid, seemingly resource poor environment, all species grow slowly and have the opportunity to live and thrive.” ‘Of course’ I pondered, ‘diversity- all of it could breathe- slow growth.’
Amidst this diversity, I consistently heard from within—‘pray the land,’ ‘pray the earth.’
This was effortless in the wild, virginal, spacious silent spaces of nature.
Coming into the energy of a city, clouds this natural virginal prayer space—for me at least.
Back to the work.
Twirl the Beads
Whilst on country Matthew Wright recommended I read The Way of the Rose, which ignited the already lit flame to pray with Mary—through the rosary. I needed a practice in my week that is ancient, transcends time, space, and creed, is not a ‘technology of the mind,’ but merely a mystery to be prayed and steeped in the cyclical nature of a life. I used its naturally occurring three-centered elements, as an ‘arrival’ into the naked ‘let it be done to me’ intention of centering prayer.
This, whilst holding the question in my heart: what is meant by ‘pray the land, pray the earth’ and why is praying with Mary through the rosary—particularly the seven sorrowful mysteries—helping?
I live where the river meets the ocean. I walk, ride, or drive past its edges most days. The beauty of its life-giving waters is breathtaking. The sunlight dances with the morning shadows; the currents and subtle wind changes create shimmering patterns across her surface; black swans gracefully swan by; dolphins feed and play amongst human transport on these rivers. Life in all its myriad of forms. I pray this poem by Philip Newell from Praying with the Earth: A Prayerbook for Peace. This book is a daily companion in our morning and evening ritual of prayer
All things come from you, O God.
And to you we return.
All things emerge in your great river of life
And into you we vanish again.
At the beginning of this day
not as separate streams
but as countless currents in a single flow
the flow of this day’s dawning
the flow of this day’s delight
the flow of this day’s sorrow
your flow, O God.
In the twisting and turnings of this new day.
I began to receive the ‘prompt’ to collect plastic from the edges. I had been doing this for a while intermittently, conveniently when I was walking anyway. This movement was a shove to get on my hands and knees and collect wrappers in the rushes and edges of the river.
The first morning of intentional work to collect plastic, I equipped myself with bags and spent the morning at Quaada gabee (beautiful water in the language of Noongar people- the original custodians).
We recently had an unprecedented storm for this time of the year and high tides had now receded. The rubbish was sickening and sobering.
The gathering and twirling of beads, now plastics within my fingers, became the practice into presence and prayer.
I left and as I turned to gaze out at the river one last time a pod of three dolphins (one youngen) swam not ten metres from the shore. Fin up—a dolphin’s thumb up?—“good on ya mate” I imagined them saying in a Aussie accent dolphin kinda way.
As the eye became trained towards the plastic I saw it everywhere. Not just on edges of rivers, but in town, on the streets, roads, the beach. There is a poster on the back of our dunny door how to reduce my plastic output, but this was ridiculous! The words “awaken” kept ringing in my ears. The un-compromising conclusion of Jacob Needleman’s question into our life’s purpose on earth, in his book An Unknown World: Notes on the Meaning of the Earth, which I had just read. The urging and invitation to hear our name called—“I am”—whilst participating in this being a human—“to move inward, without fantasy or despair, towards the unknown world within?” (p,197).
Simple—awaken! And now!!
Certainly, there is a sense of urgency in the air. The effects of global warming reverberating more and more across the world, the recent Cop26 Climate summit and the constriction and identification in the mental perspectival realm. I can sense into that urgency as I write……
……….And I remember the three kilometre trail and the slow growth that breathes and allows diversity. I twirl the rosary beads anchoring into the slow cyclical work of God—of birth, death and rebirth.
In my bubble of, for now, safety and security, I mostly pray the seven sorrow rosary prayer (as asked by Our Lady of Kibeho in 1981). It keeps me on the edge, awake to the Christ body, creation’s body, and the Merciful Love being poured out and through.
My next intentional work was with others. On the edge of the river, on hands and knees with two little unknown girls either side of me on a ‘nurdle hunt’ (the raw plastic material transported all over the world). Practice, Presence, Prayer—by now this emerged effortlessly.
We grabbed handfuls of sand and began to collect the tiny plastic nurdles, hidden to the untrained eye. As I sorted, there was of course the sorrow—this Sunday morning activity, collecting plastic from virgin nature, but also, a quiet inner joy emerged, a reverence and lovingness, as if tending the wounds of Christ. It bubbled over into play with the girls either side of me, ‘who can find the most bling plastic?’ And other fun games.
This cleaning of nurdles from the edges has also allowed me to see and burn in my ongoing judgements around excess and greed—how that too, must be surrendered into this fire of divine mercy.
The Light in the Dark
We enter into Advent. A season that holds up a stark mirror for the dual-natured being I am, and the culture I am within. I continue to walk the edges, standing in awe at the beauty of creation whilst in the corner of my eye, awareness of the plastic, and all it represents.
It no longer is overwhelming.
I turn to the Practice, the Presence and Prayer—for this to be the light.
I twirl the beads and fall into this mystery of faith.
My mind cannot grasp the reconciling, redemptive force of ‘Christosophia.’ I must simply live it—with all my heart and mind and soul. Even as I read Cynthia’s Holy Trinity and the Law of Three (for the third time) I am left with my hands in prayer at the awesome Trinitarian mystery we live within.
I pray and gaze out over the river—sometimes I can ‘see’ the renewal of the pure waters, the diversity springing forth around the edges.
The solstice is nearly upon us and the wonder of Christmas. This Taize Chant starts singing in the silence of this heart: “In our darkness, there is no darkness. With you, O Lord, the deepest night is clear as the day.”
What hope in this—what Peace and Joy!
I pray this for you, and all your beloved, and of course our Sacred Earth at this Christmas time.
Beth O’Neil lives on, and in relationship with, the place known as Perth West Australia. Beth, along with Susan Cooper from Alberta Canada, will be co-facilitating the Wisdom Solstice Event: There is a Luminous Darkness on December 21, 6:30pm ET. You can find details and register for that online event here.