The Long Paddock: We are a people of embrace, not separation

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A Bourke sunset. PHOTO: Tim J Keegan, CC BY-SA 2.0

A strange thing happened to me on my way back from Bourke the other day. There’s a stretch of road between Bourke and Nyngan which is dead straight and about 200 kms long.

It’s one of the few roads around here where it’s a serious challenge to stay focused. The bitumen just keeps rolling out in front and there is little to distract one from a sense of aloneness under a vast – huge – blue sky. Pulled over on the side of the road, the silence is deafening.

Having stopped for a break, I walked the edge of the road for a bit and watched some emu poke along the fence line which separates the Long Paddock from private land. I remembered stories I’ve been told about wild pigs and how they can “rip ya leg orrff ”, I thought about snakes and felt the huge relief which comes from knowing it’s too cold for the blighters this time of year.

Like a city slicker gone bush, I thought about other deadly things that might be lurking in the undergrowth and then, for a minute or two, I didn’t think. I didn’t think at all.

Only distant bird calls disturbed the quiet for me and – except for the sad remains of some recent road kill – I knew I was out there on my own.

I’ve always been a bit of a determined individual I think. Like so many others, I like my independence. I don’t mind ‘going it alone’. Suddenly though, in the isolation of that roadside stop, I got it.

As Christians, as Catholics, we aren’t separate from others in the way that some might want to think of themselves. We’re just not. We are One Body. We belong utterly to one another. We utterly belong to all others. We don’t ‘go it alone.’

Faith is not a private matter; it’s a relational one. It might just be that salvation is tied up with a readiness, a willingness to be open to the fact of our mutual connectedness. The mystery of the Trinity points to our absolute relatedness, to our utter connectedness to each and every human being and to all creation.

Life in the bustling city with its apparent emphasis on hyper-individualism amidst the crush of people hits a paradox in the silence and aloneness of the Long Paddock. God is relationship itself. The Trinitarian revelation is relationship. Everything is connected to everything else. To know that is to be awake, to know that is to be one with the One, it is to be saved.

Our Triune God is seriously radical. Sometimes it takes a stretch in the Long Paddock – however we might experience that quiet, reflective time – to remember the things that matter and climb over the things that don’t. It takes a quiet minute every now and then to remember the radical heart of our extraordinary spiritual tradition.

One of the Lessons from the Long Paddock may well be a willingness to slow down long enough to feel how truly awesome it is to know we belong together and how truly ludicrous it is even want to ‘go it alone’ at all.