07 Mar 2019 - by Katherine Waite
Recently the Centre acquired some beautiful water colour paintings by the artist, Fiona Pfennigwerth based on the Gospel of John. The paintings are now hanging in the Chapel and one of which now refer to has been reproduced in this e bulletin. The artist has brought to life within an Australian outback setting key elements of the narrative of the Gospel. One such painting captures the parched and rocky wilderness of the Australian outback. One scene depicts sheep set against a barren valley of red dust and rock with the inscription ‘my sheep hear my voice, And I know them, and they follow me’ (John 10:27). Another scene depicts a rocky path that needs to be traversed in the light to avoid stumbling (John11:9-10). A third scene is of a lone bush in the desert, bent over and gnarled but still green with the words underneath ‘Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one’ (John 18:9).
This particular water colour has a haunting quality; a serene barren landscape almost begging for life; a country for challenging journeys. So why begin this e-bulletin thus? Pfennigwerth’s painting struck me as a most appropriate image as we begin the season of Lent in the Christian Church of the West. In the Eastern Church, Great Lent or the Great Fast begins a little later in 2019 due to differences in calendars. However, for both East and West the focus is similar; a period of prayer and fasting in preparation for the season of Easter.
The season of Lent points us to Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness and the temptations he suffered to be an all-powerful, charismatic and indestructible magic worker. It sounds bizarre until you stop for a moment to recall the kinds of leaders we know of in politics, the church, corporate world and big business; many of whom have fallen prey to precisely such temptations. The consequence for the lives of those affected by such leadership is often disastrous and at times tragic. Herein lies the irony of life in the wilderness. It is the place of desire; of vulnerability; it is the place where the cracks in our character are exposed; where our own barrenness of soul and hopes for something more have to be grappled with. It may be at the height of our powers, importance or wealth; it may not. The wilderness is that place, that time where something more is required of us beyond self-interest; beyond the immediate promise of fame or power. The wilderness is that place where we are confronted with choices: whose voice shall we listen to; what light will guide us; how shall we find the way ahead and not become lost. The wilderness, the dry and parched places are signs of our mortality; not as a cause for celebration, nor despondency but a time for honest stocktake.
In the West Lent begins with Ash Wednesday at which time believers are invited to receive the imposition of ashes (representing the burnt palm crosses of the previous year). The words accompanying this act are a powerful and salutary reminder of our mortality: ‘remember that you came from dust and to dust you shall return’. This is a call to humility; from humus i.e. of the earth (dust). The sure sign of a humble leader is that such a person is able to receive the critique and/or rebuke of someone they consider of lesser status or importance.
In Australia, the season of Lent morphs into the season of elections where promises abound. We hope and pray with all people of good will that the coming months will be tempered with the remembrance of our mortality and openness to discern the promises that make for peace and nurture a wisdom for the common good.