The opportunity to sit at the feet of a stranger is a gift. It takes an exercise of willingness, a movement of the mind and a softening of the heart for both the listener and the giver. When these moments happen there is an intense infusion of unity into the body and both walk away knowing that God is the one who weaves this body together.
As a family, we seek out these opportunities to be both the listener and the giver. And, thanks to a friend, David Neville Cook’s (Anglican Oversea’s Aid) referral we were gifted with a chance to be stretched further than we ever have been. We reached out to him asking if he might know of any kinfolk we could connect with while we were in Australia, specifically we wanted to learn from and about the Aboriginal people. He put us on to the Surrender Conference, a gathering of all sorts of folks doing amazing things in their communities, from hospitality to refugees, to creating sustainable/recycled goods, living side by side with folks in some of the poorest parts of the world to intentional communities. We wrote the directors and asked if we could be involved in any way and they said yes! The theme was “Walk Alongside” which suited us, being that that is really what we do as we travel, connecting with communities, to learn from them and walk alongside, sharing in whatever way they desire.
The day began with an Aboriginal welcoming ceremony in the courtyard. The Elder from the Wurundjeri people welcomed us to his country and there was a traditional blessing, dance and then the floor opened for others to say a thank you to the elder. Many other Aboriginal people from all over Australia stood to say thank you for welcoming them onto his peoples land. Then others followed including a Cornish man, who gave a blessing. A group of New Zealand Māori’s shared their Haka dance, there were folks from Africa that offered a word, Matt LaBlanc Director of IEmergance, representing his Canadian indigenous people and gave a traditional thank you, and there were many more. To experience the depth of culture during this ceremony was an honor and the perfect way to start our weekend journey learning and listening.
We played plenty of music but the goal was to be present and allow the Spirit to work in our hearts and minds.
14 yrs ago Craig and I merged our cultural backgrounds, foods, music and customs, ideals and beliefs. Craig’s music collection is enormous, eclectic and one of the things that attracted me to him. He introduced me to the music from his land. Bands like the Dirty Three, Nick Cave, and some of the beautiful indigenous music from Australia. I fell in love with one particular band from Victoria called Tiddas, which is Koori for the word sisters. Their music was filled with emotion, tender harmonies and intense lyrics that told the story of their people. One of my favorite songs that they sing was a traditional called Inanay. I learned the song and began to sing it to our daughter at a very early age. I introduced the song to my mother and the three of us would showcase the song in three part harmony at family gatherings and performances. The song had become an interracial part of our journey as mother’s and daughters. And so, as I was sitting across the table from Tracie and Denise, two aboriginal women, I asked them about the song. Wondering if they knew the history or origin? They knew it and were pleased that I did too. It is a song sung by mothers to their children but they were unsure of the origin or language as there were over 250 seperate Aboriginal languages spoken in Australia.
Through the course of the weekend, we listened to different folks share about all different sides of “coming alongside.” We heard advocates from Wycliffe share about the 35 year journey of translating the first ever indigenous scriptures in Australia, which mean 30,000 Kriol-speaking indigenous Australians (and countless generations to come) now have the ‘Holi Baibul’ in their own heart language.
I went to a session on how good intentions are not always in the interest of those we are trying to care for. I heard a woman named Hannah share her story of growing up bi-racial, her mother was Irish and her father Māori. She shared about difficulties that it brought but also the joy of being able to move cross culturally with understanding and grace. We learned from many Aboriginal people how folks have failed in the past at “coming alongside” of them and were gracious in sharing traditions and customs to better help their “Whitefella” counterparts to have a better impact. Personally, it was difficult to listen at times, as pride would well up or my own victim stance would try to cloud my ears. Insecurities would seep in when I would have conversation and at times I felt like a fumbling little child. However, I pressed on, releasing my need to be in control and literally made room for the new information in my brain.
Meanwhile, Craig was also connecting, sharing story, listening to and meeting new friends. The kids were also taking it all in, each in their own way. Our daughter, is more of an observer but found herself in a position where her heart was moved and experienced a very personal moment with God. Our son, is more hands on and always looking for mates to hang with. He brought out his drum during the first late night session and was invited to jam with a mob from the Gold Coast. (Mob is a traditional word for clan or tribe) It was a joy to see them include him like a brother all weekend. They included us too.
As we were jamming, I became aware that they were rehearsing for Indigenous night, where all of the clans would share their music. And, as it turned out they invited us to share the traditional song I mentioned earlier. What an honor to be included in their special night, to be able to feel like we were part of their mob.
At the end of the day, us Hollands really do believe we are one body. And, when we can begin to look deeper into the tie that binds us all together we see a richness of culture, creed and custom. We see the blood of Christ. We see reconciliation as a miracle and not something we can white knuckle. We see the body as God sees the body and that is worth more than our pride or opinions about politics and borders and who’s who, and what’s what. It’s a beautiful thing to experience a little bit of heaven on earth. It’s a precious thing to be apart of this great big tapestry of humanity.
PS. We captured a little video of us singing Inanay and will post it soon.