Excerpt from Fall 2014 student Tim Almquist’s blog “A Season Down Under“. Reproduced with permission.
“Our Western dualistic minds do not process paradoxes very well. Without contemplative minds, we do not know how to hold creative tensions. We are better at rushing to judgement and demanding complete resolution to things before we have learned what they have to teach us.”
– Richard Rohr
“What Western Christians struggle with, then, is a dualistic belief that for God to be in something, that thing must transcend the ordinary—it must become outwardly different in order to distance itself from the natural, evil, world and thus become “Christian.” They cannot accept a natural expression of God among us. This is in absolute contradiction to what the Bible teaches in John 1:14: and the Word [God] became flesh and dwelt among us.”
– Richard Twiss
“You don’t find truth. Truth finds you.”
– A wise Australian friend
“Study abroad students often go home more uncertain, but more committed.”
– Australia Studies Centre Program Director
As I began to prepare for coming to Australia, I made a mental list of the many personal things I was going to achieve while transcending the barriers of the community I call home. I don’t exactly know where this mindset came from: that because I was off on an international adventure I would somehow find the answers to different questions I’ve been asking myself in the past couple years. More broadly, they are questions like: what will you do with your life?, and when will you begin? I often struggle to make or give meaning to things and so I find myself sitting and wondering when it’ll come. I wait for reasons, rhymes, certainties, patterns and answers, as if God would just hand me a prompt, so I can get on with it. The problem with this way of living, is that most things don’t actually work out in such a conveniently ordered fashion. We are often left with choices to make and sacrifices to risk. I want to suggest, that we (assuming I’m not alone) find ourselves in this trap because it has something to do with the West; particularly the Western understanding of Time. Below I have drawn a simple illustration of the difference between the Western and Indigenous understandings of time:
While those of us with a Western worldview default to a linear sense of time, the Indigenous worldview understands time circularly. What does all this abstract theory have to do with my time in Australia? Well, back to those unanswered questions I had at the beginning of my semester, believe it or not, I head home in less than a week and according to the linear worldview, they are still unanswered. And I do believe at some point certain things will become clearer and I will have more direction about post-college life. It just feels liberating to try and commit to an Indigenous understanding of time, not because it means I won’t have to make some choices and take some risks, but because it does a better job at allowing me to experience the meaning of life interwoven between past, present and future. The Western concept pulls up its boot straps never looking back, while the Indigenous view has a center to revolve around. I will describe this with an example from class a couple weeks ago.
I woke up the last day of my Aboriginal cultures class with a significant thought. The thought was that I came all the way here to Australia, expecting to change and grow as a person. I realized that it doesn’t matter what you do in life, it’s not material things or even grand adventures like studying abroad that truly change and satisfy you. Implicitly and explicitly, you will learn and grow and I have learned a lot. Really though, what matters is not one more experience or one more accomplishment, but it is the people we are in relationship with that counts as a worthy pursuit in everything before us. I know that sounds sweet and cliche, but do think with me for a minute about how easily we make our lives about accomplishment rather than contentment or conquest instead of love. It’s like we never learned how to be still and know that God is God, delighting and trusting in that. On that same day I woke up with this significant but simple thought, I found myself seated on the dry ground in a circle with a number of Aboriginal women as kookaburras sang from the gum trees surrounding us. We learned from them how to interpret Aboriginal art theologically and watched as they danced the story of salvation in Christ. A missionary who joined us helped bridge the gap between Indigenous and Western and gave us examples of how Westerners tend to view the world. One thing he said was “it’s not about tasks, it’s about relationships.” This quickly connected with the thought I had earlier that morning. The people in our lives are what matter, rather than the things we get done or the answers we discover. There will always be people to share life with, either directly or indirectly and I have learned a deeper sense of what that means by being abroad for the semester. Despite all the places I’ve traveled to, papers I’ve written or even those bright mornings out on the veranda when I journaled and read, there’s nothing about my adventure as important as sharing it with other people who are trying to make their way in the world just like me.
As I prepare for my return home, it is tempting to want to tie it all up and simplify it into pictures, souvenirs and drawn out journal entries. Instead, I feel the need to rest and release the labels and categories of ordered control from my weak grip. This season has been special in many ways. It has also been a reminder that life is simple and ordinary, even on the other side of the globe. I will be home after enduring several more hours on a plane and the mystery of time travel and be presented with the same invitation I was given before I left. And this invitation is sacred as it comes from our Creator saying:
“I know you have a lot of questions, unresolved tensions, and life often feels overwhelming with paradox and a lack of certainty. Instead of living each day in fear, you are invited to partake in a revolving communal journey of simple yet eternal redemption. There is a harmony to be had with other people and the land on which you wander. It is a harmony singing the songs of everyday love and grace. Everyone’s invited. Even you.”