This Thirsty Heart: A Journey in the Deserts of Australia
Ian Robinson, MACSIS Publishing
A fascinating mixture of philosophy, theology, documentary, sociology and spirituality and a coffee table travel pictorial. And, more importantly, a “story” in the best ancient traditions of storytelling, where “story” forms the basis of identity and community.
Ian Robinson has led many “tours” into the outback with the aim of challenging/promoting/developing a consciousness of an Australian desert spirituality. I have not travelled with him but living and working much of my life in the outback (remote and isolated areas) I can identify with this “desert spirituality”.
This interest took a twist when I was accompanied by some folk who had been with Ian. Their comment after a week on patrol was, “This is a very different experience.”
My curiosity was aroused.
Ian’s book takes the reader on a week’s run through the desert on one of his trips. Whether the dialogues are verbatim or composite constructions really doesn’t matter: they are “story”. They invite the reader to be part of this journey and it works — as much as can be without the dust and flies.
It is not a substitute for the actual experience but hopefully it will inspire and prepare you for a trip, if not with Ian then with some of the other leaders who take such journeys.
Ian’s trips use the desert as an icon and opportunity for members of the group to take time out to realise the reality of life. He is careful to lead away from a “been there, done that” holiday.
Does the book achieve this? Yes and no.
I read the book while I was in the desert on a patrol, reading on a day-by-day basis, and it was a meaningful time.
Reading it at home in the comfort of a lounge chair, I think, may leave one a little short. But then, as Ian points out, the desert is used as an icon and the reality could still come through.
Personally I find cities very desolate and isolating places. (Perhaps we need to develop an urban spirituality for outback people or recognise the features of an urban spirituality?)
That feeling, and an incident from the patrol, gave me a clue as to the difference between Ian’s desert spirituality and mine as expressed by those folk who had journeyed with us both.
Visiting a property about eight hours from the nearest town, the conversation moved to being isolated. These folk said, “We are not isolated; we just have an expansive view.”
Living in the desert, they had a different desert spirituality.
Searching for a comparison, Ian’s is more an “Evangelical” experience; those who live there have a more “Orthodox” experience.
The desert is not something that takes us out of the normal to bring new insight — that happens when we go to the city. It is something that is so ingrained and intrinsic to our life that the inspiration of the desert is quite different.
It is very much what Ian’s last chapters, Returning Home and Conclusion, lead into: a spirituality informed and consistent with the reality of our life, community and environment.
Approached as a coffee table travel book, the photographs are wonderful and could lead the reader into an experience and enhance one’s perception of God.
But do the journey, with the dust and flies, the heat and prickles. It is even better than the book.
If you can do both, book and journey, do so; but if you can’t, doing one will be well worth the effort.
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