Songlines

The East and West MacDonnell Ranges stretch out for hundreds of kilometres on both sides of Alice Springs. The traditional owners of the Alice Springs area, the Arrernte people, believe giant caterpillars called the Yeperenye became the Ranges – they entered this world through one of the dramatic gaps in the escarpments of the area.

While in Alice Springs we stumbled our way around these giant caterpillars, spending a lot of time in Simpsons Gap. We found it fascinating how we could walk for hours and always end up in what seemed like the same place. To the untrained eye it can be overwhelmingly disorienting with the extreme heat, blurred vision and an eerie stillness in the air.

However, the day we arrived everything was in full bloom and fresh cool water was in the rock pool. Some of the dead tree trunks showed the remnants of fire, presumably from a sacred ceremony.  I though about the stories I had heard about the ancient Aboriginal songlines, also called dreaming tracks.

From what I had learned, these (paths) songlines are recorded in traditional songs, stories, dance, and paintings. By singing the songs in the appropriate sequence, indigenous people can navigate vast distances, citing landmarks, waterholes, and other natural phenomena. However, songlines are more than just a pre-goggle maps way of navigating the aired land. The songlines also carry the history of the land and of their people in harmony with the land. They believe the footprints of their Creation Ancestors are on the rocks and learn from their elders the sacred sites, the stories, song, dance and with them the Tjukurpa (the Dreaming Law). Thus, the songlines are acts of remembrance, involving mind and body. Through the songlines the Aboriginal people continually recreate the Tjukurpa connecting them to past, present and future.

I could feel the history of these ancient people under my feet and respectfully I treaded lightly. I felt welcomed though, welcome to take time to reflect on my own history and faith. As I sat under a giant old gum tree, precious memories of my own Grandma Grace’s songlines came to mind.

I meditated on all the ways that she passed on tradition and story, of self and of God, singing in her beautiful angelic voice, sweet old hymns about the paths set ahead and those who have gone before us. She sang of a Creator God who longs to walk with us, to talk with us and to tell us we are not alone. Oh! To know we are not alone!

I remembered her voice in the stillness. As tears rolled down my cheeks, a song began to flow off of my lips and I joined her in harmony singing.

I come to the garden alone,
While the dew is still on the roses,
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses.
And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

He speaks, and the sound of His voice
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing.

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

I’d stay in the garden with Him,
Though the night around me be falling,
But He bids me go; through the voice of woe
His voice to me is calling.

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

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Surrender14: Walk Alongside

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.

Photo credit to UrbanSeed.org
Photo credit to UrbanSeed.org

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.

Wycliffe AustrailaThrough 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.

Surrender 2014Meanwhile, 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.

Over The Hills And Thru The Woods

216285_4304624772516_1857801823_nAs I was growing up, there was an emphasis on Christmas family gatherings, specially on my mother’s side of the family. For as long as I can remember until my late twenty’s we drove long hours through blizzards on icy roads. All making our way to Fisk Street in Muskegon, Michigan. It was a modest home filled with all of the smells and sounds of Christmas.

My Grandmother was a quilt maker and made all thirteen of us grandchildren stockings. She would fill them with all sort of goodies, including toothbrushes and home-made slippers. We’d make up plays and musicals in the basement while the Aunties and Uncles played card games. And of course, we’d share a traditional dinner.  Some years, we would go to the Muskegon City Rescue Mission to serve the Christmas meal to those with no place to call home. There was the occasional ice skating escapade and in later years, we would include a jaunt to the local movie theater to see the latest Christmas block buster.

Then my grandmother died and everything changed.

I suppose it’s probably pretty normal, the natural progression of time. As the grandkids got older and started having their own children, the aunties and uncles began to nurture their own traditions with their immediate families.

It was a pretty good run. I was in my early 30’s when the Christmas of my youth passed away, always to be remembered and cherished but never to be replicated.

SiblingsI’m the oldest child in my immediate family. I have a brother and a sister. My brother and his family live in Wisconsin.  My sister and her son live in Colorado and our parents live in Arizona.

This year, we all made the trek to Colorado for our family Christmas, and for the first time, in a long time, we were all in the same place. We decided to converge in Estes Park, Colorado.

Our five days together were beautiful, incorporating some of the old, as well as, each individual families traditions. We wrapped presents, made cinnamon rolls (the gluten-free didn’t go over as well as I had hoped), papa read a story about the Christmas child and nana carried on her mother’s tradition of all of the little stocking stuffers for the grandkids. We went to see the Hobbit at the local movie theater, enjoyed ice-skating, hiking and playing our favorite card game, Hand and Foot. Technology made a strong appearance this year with Minecraft as a favorite among all of the cousins, I-Phone’s posted photos to Instagram and Facebook, updating all those who cared to have a gander at our family fun. It was a beautiful week together.

There is a longing in all of us to replicated what is good in life. That’s what traditions tap into, right? However, if there is any lesson learned from past experience or from our nomadic journey, it would be that each moment, each experience, is its own. If the future holds another go round, we will embrace it fully. We cherish these moments, savory them while they are happening, all with a healthy understanding that we know not what tomorrow brings.

Rocky Mountain National Forest