On a recent visit to Jerusalem I took the opportunity to visit what many people consider to be the holiest site in the world. “The site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is identified as the place both of the crucifixion and the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth. The church has long been a major pilgrimage centre for Christians all around the world.”
It was unusually quiet on the day I visited, allowing me to enter right into the sacred places and marvel at the thought that here, or somewhere close by, some of the most significant moments of the Christian faith occurred. While waiting for my turn to pay my respects on this sacred site, a young man asked me if I could tell him what was meant to have occurred there. I must confess I was a little surprised that he did not know. Imagine coming all the way to Jerusalem and finding this church almost hidden in the Old City and not even knowing why it was important?
A few moments later a group of school children entered into the sanctuary. A couple of little boys broke from formation as one of the boys went in pursuit of his hat, stolen by the other boy. They were happy and giggling but were soon reprimanded by a teacher who reminded them they were in a holy place.
Neither the young man nor the school children recognised this as a sacred space but this does not alter the fact that to millions of people it is the holiest of places. Had they known perhaps they would have responded differently, perhaps not, and perhaps as visitors and children we could have excused them?
The National NAIDOC theme for 2015 is, We all Stand on Sacred Ground: Learn, Respect and Celebrate. The NAIDOC website describes the theme by explaining that it “highlights Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ strong spiritual and cultural connection to land and sea. The theme is an opportunity to pay respects to country; honour those who work tirelessly on preserving land, sea and culture and to share the stories of many sites of significance or sacred places with the nation. As the oldest living continuing culture on the planet, the living culture of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is intrinsically linked with these sacred places.”
The sad truth is that many Australians, including myself, have long been ignorant of the fact that we stand on sacred ground. As children or visitors we could be excused, but for those of us who choose to call this place home there really is no excuse. I was taught even as a child that when I enter someone else’s home I should show my respect. It is never too late to begin to do this, to begin a journey of learning and respecting so that we can be participants in celebrating this wonderful land.
Among the ideas on how to celebrate NAIDOC this year are:
- Learn the Traditional names and stories for places, mountains, rivers etc. around your region
- Discover what language groups had names for places and sites in your region
- Find out about how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are working to protect these places.
Imagine living in this beautiful and diverse country; imagine standing on sacred ground and not bothering to find out why it is important!
Sandra is the Social Justice Secretary for The Salvation Army Southern Territory