top of page

The Desert as Place of Disillusionment

Fr Hugh put together a Lenten Series this year: Friends and Companions - Books that have Shaped our Theology and asked four ordained and two lay leaders at St Peter's to preach each Sunday then lead a discussion group. This sermon I preached at High Mass on the First Sunday, 18th February.

Genesis: 9:8-15

1Peter: 3:18-22

Mark 1: 12-15

When I was a teenager I was part of a drama troupe, GSODA: The Geelong Society of Operatic and Dramatic Arts. We performed musicals like Hello Dolly and The Sound of Music - full of enthusiasm, but perhaps a little short of their original heyday. We were taught many old music hall and Vaudeville songs. One, you may know it, was written in 1917 and later performed by Judy Garland include these lines in the chorus: ‘I’m always chasing rainbows, watching clouds drifting by; my schemes are just like all my dreams ending in the sky,’ finishing with: ‘Believe me, I’m always chasing rainbows, waiting for the little blue bird in vain.’ It’s a sad song about the senselessness of life, there’s a mixture of resignation and self-pity as the singer contemplates a lifetime experience of failure - the blue bird of happiness is a wild goose chase. It certainly would have been a heartfelt song during the Great Depression.

Why did God shape God’s first covenant with human kind in the form of a rainbow, as we hear in the first lesson today? After all those nights of flooding rain, couped up with his family and that large menagerie of creatures what did Noah think and feel, when he first saw this rainbow? A few lines after this passage, Noah’s son Canaan shames him by speaking about seeing Noah naked having drunk too much wine; is this, a poignant reminder about our own wounded humanity? Was there ever a bluebird of happiness for Noah?

When I read books by Rowan Williams or listen to his addresses, even those I find most abstruse and impossible, I always sense his encouragement to keep asking questions, to reach for that place further into. Questions keep the Gospels and the stories in the books of the Bible alive; the time to start being concerned is when you are certain that you have the answers. For Williams there is also that sanctioning to be totally free and intelligent in your prayer life, open and honest in your relationship with God and an urgent request for us all to think and speak more subtly. Self-awareness is a life cultivated in the spirit. To become truthfully attuned of one another’s frailty and to begin to recognise those chains of fantasy we enmesh ourselves in, is to start to understand how deeply o