The great ancient city of Ur, recently visited by Pope Francis, is traditionally regarded as the birthplace of Abraham. Ur was prosperous and famous as a world trade centre of its day – much like New York, London, or Sydney today. The people who lived there could have never imagined it would become the ruins we see today. We know from history that great cities and those who rule them rise and fall. We must question what exactly the legacy is that we wish to leave future generations. The great English poet, Percy Bysshe Shelly observed these themes in his poem below:
I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said – “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert… Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
Pope Francis has been ‘walking courageously on lone and level sands that stretch far away’ on his historic trip to Iraq. He visited historic and geographical places sacred to the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, including the ruins of the great city of Ur. At each visit he stopped to pray, reflect and give thanks. Pope Francis is bringing the world’s attention to our global connectedness to past and present and the possibilities for a positive future – a legacy of peace between and within major world religions. It is not in building great monuments or great dynasties or great economies that will bring this peace. It is in creating connections between those who have previously been estranged; connections honouring the dignity of humanity and faith.
Major news services covering the visit report that Pope Francis has focused on reconciling and building relationships between Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Muslims and Jews. Images of divergent faith traditions sitting together, deeply listening to each other and acknowledging their commonalities echo Senior Australian of the Year, Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann’s call for people to come together in the spirit of Dadirri (addressed in the last Religious Education blog).
Contrast the ruins of ancient cities and rulers, with the continuous civilisation of First Nations peoples, who have lived sustainably and connected with each other and the land for over 40,000 years. Their heritage is in their stories and living traditions, their sense of identity and connectedness to the land and its people.
We spend so much time working to gain material possessions without questioning to what end? Can we lead simpler lives? Live more sustainably? Be more connected with others? Be aware of our footprints on the land? Be less anxious about finances and debts? Can we limit the extent of loneliness that has been called the scourge of our generation?
The Pope’s journey is especially relevant to students in Religious Education in Years 9 – 12. Our Year 9 students are studying Abrahamic religions and the current focus is Islam. Our Year 10 students are studying Church history and exploring the impact of the Crusades and the breakup (Schism) between the Catholic (Roman) and Byzantine (Orthodox) Churches. Year 11 are exploring the meaning that is experienced through reconciliation and building relationships with others. Finally, Year 12 students are examining what it means to live a Good Life. Pope Francis’ example of courage in the face of his own vulnerability is inspiring.
During Lent, we too are called to reconcile ourselves with God and each other, to build relationships based on love, to have the courage to acknowledge our part in relationships which have failed, and to take the first steps in the reconciliation process. God is always waiting for us to take that step. As it says in Joel 2: ‘Come back to me with all your heart’.
The below song by John Michael Talbot also reminds us…
Come back to me with all your heart
Don’t let fear keep us apart
Trees do bend though straight and tall
So must we to others’ call
Long have I waited for
Your coming home to me
And living deeply our new lives
The wilderness will lead you
To the place where I will speak
Integrity and justice
You shall know.
Again, we see the spirit of Dadirri calling us to be in the presence of God, deeply listening to God’s desire for us to be whole and reconciled. It also helps us realise our ability to live sustainably and in connection with others and our environment.
Interestingly, the Pope’s monthly prayer for March is to engage in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Let us pray that we may experience the sacrament of reconciliation with renewed depth, to taste the infinite mercy and love of God.
And let us pray for Pope Francis as he seeks, in his vulnerability to bring peace to the world.
A Lenten Prayer
Lord, come with me into my wilderness. Speak to my preoccupied heart. Reveal to me where addiction to power, possession and gratification choke my path. Only when I am free from these can I be good news to others. Only then do I become part of the solution to the world’s problems – source unknown.
Further insight and a deeper understanding of the Pope’s journey:
An inspiring prayer for unity among believers of Abraham religions: