Pilgrimage to Living Water
I have lived in Australia for 42 years. I am an Australian citizen.
And now, after my experience in the desert of West Australia, sleeping under the stars in a swag, I feel even more qualified to call myself an Australian.
I am part of the Wellspring Community — a national network of people connecting spirituality and justice.
Every two years we have a National Gathering so that our dispersed membership has a chance for some face-to-face community time.
This year we have been to Perth. For people from the eastern parts of Australia it was a long trip to go to the West and so our people over there organised two tours for the week after the Gathering so that we could see some more of the state.
One was in a bus and included beds every night for the participants and the other was a group of 11 of us in three four-wheel drive cars going into the desert.
This was from May 1 to 7 and so our leader, the Rev. Ian Robinson, realised it was a perfect time for us to join the Pilgrimage to Living Water.
In our group were two people from West Australia, three from Queensland, five from New South Wales and me from the ACT.
For several of us it was a first experience of being in such a remote part of our country. We started at Koora Retreat Centre near Southern Cross so had beds for the first two nights as we settled into a post-Gathering mindset.
We were hosted by Peter Harrison and Anna Killigrew, who showed us their property on the Mandaring to Kalgoorlie water pipeline — a truly impressive place with impressive people.
At last I started to unwind after a busy time at the Gathering. The peaceful feeling of arid country started to settle into me — the red earth, the low growth trees and the incredible beauty and variety of the colours everywhere. Some of the York gums looked as though they had been polished, they were so shiny.
The earth beneath our feet
It was at Koora that we started the liturgy of the Pilgrimage to Living Water. We looked at our icon for the first time and joined in the prayer that included the words:
God of pilgrim people,
as we journey, help us to notice the earth beneath our feet,
the sights and sounds, the feel and the smell,
the wondrous beauty of Your creation,
the gifts and insights of this community.
We then headed north into more remote country and visited Lake Seabrook, a salt lake that we could walk on and definitely not a source of living water. However, there was life there too — samphire bushes that had a berry that was edible for animals, despite its saltiness.
We saw a place where a white man had died of thirst even though he was near an Aboriginal water collector. He missed the living water too.
By evening we had made our way to Malgar Rock near Lake Barlee. I was just blown away by the beauty of this place. Rock formations in the late afternoon sun were just stunning as was the place where we made our camp.
Soon there was a campfire going, tents or swags laid out and dinner on the go. The light faded quickly and after dinner we just stared at the stars.
We were promised the sight of a billion stars and that certainly came true. We also saw the Aboriginal picture in the stars that makes the shape of an emu, but this is by looking at the black spaces in between the stars, not at the stars themselves. Wonderful stuff!
Even though we were all over 60 — apart from Ian — we got used to managing visits to the scrub for our personal needs and cleaning our teeth with two squirts of water from a bottle. Showers were not possible, so no living water to keep our bodies clean there. We had plenty of water to drink; that was the important thing.
That night, as I lay in my swag, I counted my blessings as well as the stars. How lucky was I to be in such a place with such a group of pilgrims!
I decided not to close my eyes but just stare at the sky as long as I could. Eventually I must have closed them because when I next awoke the stars were in completely different places and I realised quite a bit of time had passed. I could still find the emu!
Restore our sight
The next time of waking was just at dawn. I joined others in climbing Malgar Rock and watching the sun rise over a very distant horizon, lighting up the rock formations in the most wonderful colours.
Not being a morning person I amazed myself by feeling so good at 6 am! Our liturgy that morning included the words:
We are thirsty, but sometimes blind
to the sight and sound of Living Water.
Heal us and restore our sight
so that we might find our way together
to the well-spring of life that awaits us.
For a community called Wellspring, that was a special prayer. It was that morning that I also felt the power of one of Trish Watts’ songs that we had been singing:
Come, rest and wait in the wilderness
Listen and see with your heart.
I took those words as my message from God for me at this time in my life. Even in a personal wilderness, or place of uncertainty, there is beauty to feed our souls while we listen with our hearts. I felt great peace with that realisation.
We travelled on again through this beautiful country, stopping for lunch or changing drivers, and eventually met up with the bus group people at Wogarno Station, near Mount Magnet, where we were all staying for the night. We laid out our swags and tents again while the bus group people had beds. We visited the huge rocky outcrop on the property to watch sunset and enjoy cheese, wine and juice. Quite civilised really!
Around the campfire after dinner that night we read the story of the man who was healed by Jesus at the pool of Siloam and I felt the power of the meditation time, considering how we are like that man.
What do I most need in life? Am I continually trusting that Jesus is in control my life working all things together for good?
Another night under the stars but this time the most memorable part was waking up in the morning while it was still dark and the stars shining. I realised that the sky was lightening, so I just watched as the stars gradually disappeared and the sky turned to grey then a soft blue. Even then a few stars were still visible. These are times I will never forget.
That day included visits to Cue and the ghost town of Big Bell but the highlight for me was visiting Walga Rock. This is like a small version of Uluru, the same red granite and wave like formations.
There is a lot of Aboriginal artwork on the rock face too, dating back thousands of years. This made the visit particularly memorable. What an honour to be able to visit such a place. My camera worked overtime there.
Our final destination was Meekatharra, which is the home town of Wellspring member the Rev. Lesley deGrussa Macaulay, who is the Frontier Services minister for the Murchison Patrol.
The last two nights were in beds again and the showers felt good!
Our day out with Lesley included visiting the Royal Flying Doctor Base, surely a place where living water is dealt out on a daily basis.
In the afternoon we had time to ourselves and I was amazed to see the difference in the town from when I had last visited there in 2008. The rains had come and that living water has meant that there is green grass and much more vegetation than is usual.
Our ongoing pilgrimage
Our final liturgy took place on the first morning in Meekatharra, where we looked at the story of the woman at the well — the subject of our icon picture. We were gradually seeing more and more in this picture and appreciating the depth of meaning in it. So many questions arising from it. We then joined in this prayer:
Help us now to clarify, to articulate,
and to be empowered by your Spirit,
for the return to our daily life,
carrying the Living Water of Jesus Christ.
And may God bless our ongoing pilgrimage,
Christ Jesus walk beside us,
and the Spirit guide our steps. Amen
The next morning we had breakfast on the edge of a lake near Cue, as we were en route back to Perth. This was a lovely sight of living water in a previously dry part of our land.
Now that we have scattered to many parts of this country, I pray that the experience in WA will sit with us and encourage us to be on-going pilgrims, no matter where we find ourselves.
Thanks to Uniting Church President Alistair Macrae who suggested the pilgrimage, to those who wrote the liturgies, to Ian for making me feel safe in the desert, and to my fellow pilgrims who made the time so worthwhile.
Jill Robertson, Kippax Uniting Church and Wellspring Community
Spirit Journeys in the desert are run by the Rev. Ian Robinson on a regular basis.
See also the Koora Retreat Centre.