On awe and the getting of wisdom

16th SUNDAY after Pentecost 

12 September 2021

The Church of Saint Andrew, the Apostle, Indooroopilly Anglican

Readings: Wisdom 7.26-8.1; Psalm 19; Mark 8.27-38

Rev’d Richard Browning

Note: this homily here is a fuller version from which four sermons were drawn, WayPoint on Friday night, 6pm Eucharist on Saturday and the two Sunday morning services. Variations took place at each of these services. Some extra notes are added here to aid going deeper. 


A story of four days in the woods: two tarps, one axe, a box of matches, a sleeping bag and a billy; three frozen nights and no food. 

It was not secret men’s business, but it was men seeking to be better men. I camped by a white gum too huge for my arms to reach halfway around. I didn’t know it at the time but there was a window in the canopy above that ran NE /SW.  When the sun set and in the hour before the bright half-moon rose, the sky was black, and there, in perfect alignment to the window framed by the leaves hung the Milky Way, headed by the Southern Cross two thirds the way through its descending clockwise arc. And there popped Dark Emu.

Not for the first time I felt addressed:

by life, the white gum six metres wide, the fire;
by the morning sun, 
the days light, 
the dark night and lit sky 
shot through with immeasurable immovable moving stars;
And the Emu, dark and brooding.

Breath was drawn from the body. Sometimes there is an accompanying sound.

This experience is called awe:
a transfixed attention
an exhalation
a vocalisation – recognisable, like laughter, in any language in the world:



Our scriptures suggest that awe before the Creator is the beginning of wisdom. I reference this in proximity to my encounter in the woods not to suggest I possess wisdom, but that I intentionally cultivate a heart that might be so attuned (– I wish to be caught practising what I would hope to preach). 

Psalm 19 today is set as a response to the reading of Wisdom.

We learn from Proverbs (8) and Job (28) that Wisdom emanates from God, is personified in the feminine form, was alongside God as a companion and partner in the activity of creation. She is more precious than anything, more powerful than the sun, purer than light, the vanquisher of evil. We learn from Job that she does not aggregate in places that can be mined, like gold or precious gems. Wisdom is hidden, everywhere. But she is accessible.

The key to accessibility is 
not individual ability but openness, 
is not fear but awe, a capacity to attend with ears and eyes of the heart;
and in the exhalation and the vocalisation, 
wisdom begins to make a home within;
and in our bodies and through our lives, a character emerges that rejects evil, embraces Love bringing forth healing and justice in the way of God.

An interruption

Do we need reminding that are two books of the revelation of God. One we call the Scriptures and the other, over 13 Billion years old, is creation. 

Psalm 19 – creation’s language

The opening line of the psalm finds the second book referencing the first:

the heavens declare the glory of God;

The sky and its blackness, the stars and their unbounded expanse, the roots of the mountains each and all proclaim the creator’s handiwork.

And then:
Day to day pours forth speech,
    and night to night declares knowledge.

And yet:
There is no speech, nor are there words;
    their voice is not heard.

Wait. What?

Even though there is no speech or words or voice heard,

their voice goes out through all the earth,
    and their words to the end of the world.

Wisdom is present in this mystery and her language is silence. 

Silence is not available to the proud, or full; nor the busy, or full of themselves or bound to a world of objects of price.

Silence is perceivable to those with ears and eyes of the heart, who allow their breath to be drawn out with sighs and deep groans:


The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
… (and despite our lack of careful reckoning)
nature is never spent …

Or from our prayer book this prayer that reaches back to the dawn of creation: 

God of Holy Dreaming, Great Creator Spirit, 

… You spoke and the gum tree grew.

In the vast desert and dense forest, and in cities at the water’s edge,

Creation sings your praise.

Your presence endures as the rock at the heart of our Land.

To the attentive, the natural world as the first book of God’s revelation offers an apocalypse: an uncovering that takes away the breath of the awake and points the soul towards the origins of being itself, where silence is the language and Wisdom the prize.

The Psalmist goes on, speaking about the sun before landing on law. 

This law:
is perfect, and revives the soul;
is firm and makes wise the simple;
stirs joy in the deepest recesses of the heart;
enlightens the eyes.
This law is pure, eternal, true from the beginning of the foundations of the universe.

This law is resonant with wisdom.


I wish to point again to the getting of wisdom; 
the work of preparing the heart in readiness for wisdom to take root;
drawing out a character that embraces God’s law of Love 
bringing forth healing and justice.

We marked yesterday 20 years since the fall of the two great towers in New York. It took everyone’s breath away. What if the riches and powers of the West were possessed by wisdom? Can overwhelming force, drone bombing and occupation that presses from outside a foreign will of our making, ever end in peace and not pieces?

Story: The Coming of the Light

There is a remarkable story kept within our Torres Strait Islander sisters and brothers, 150 years old this year. The story is remembered as a public holiday every year and marks the time when missionaries from the London Missionary Society arrived on the beach of Erub Island. The missionaries brought the book of Scriptures and the name Jesus. This is not surprising. What is surprising and a cause for gracious humility in the church is to know that Jesus is celebrated as being on both sides of the boat. That is, Jesus, the Logos, the law of God, the eternal Word through whom creation is created, without whom nothing is made that is made, is celebrated as already being here, companion for tens of thousands of years with the First Peoples of the Islands and this land. 

It means that First Nation’s people, through their long history of resting under that wide sky and moving across this broad land are well attuned to the speech behind the growing gum and the silence that has camped here from the beginning.
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So maybe it should not surprise that an artist like Cheryl Moggs from Bigambul country can teach us about this language, this law and its wisdom. Moggs is an elder and educator and has painted something remarkable in her work ‘I am my mother’s teacher’. When she painted the southern cross, she wrote around it pathways of navigation that indicate the knowledge that comes from the maps in the sky, the seasons and times that are communicated. There, in what we call the Southern Cross, is where the Dreamings may be kept. It is very close to the head of the Dark Emu. It takes the breath away that Cheryl painted a patterned cross and scarred tree between the stars. This woman does not have the Scriptures as her text but the lands from Goondiwindi and further west. She has engaged in high theology (or more truly, Christology). She has placed the scars of Jesus, not two thousand years ago, but aeons ago, right at the very beginning of time itself.

That is to say, when Jesus empties himself, suffers and dies, this is not a singular event in history, but the eternal story of history; it is a revealing of who Jesus is and how God always acts: the Second Person of the Trinity is always engaged in loving, costly, self-donation through which creation emerges and salving restoration is secured.

This pattern is what Jesus teaches in today’s Gospel, described as an undergoing 
of great suffering, 
and death. 

(Let that take your breath away!)

This is an apocalypse and Jesus shared it openly: a revealing of the eternal character of God (and of humanity’s appetite for grasping violence).

When we are not open to this way,

When this does not take our breath away:
we will assert our own way, 
project our image, enforce our will and apply any necessary violence;
and wisdom will not live in us,
and love will not be known through us.

This is Peter. Watch him, yet to undergo the Christ of the Cross and welcome the Wisdom of the Suffering God. Incredibly, Peter rebukes Jesus and tells him to abandon any notion of suffering. Peter does not know it, but he is asking Jesus to relinquish his DNA and function contrary to his essence and nature. 

Jesus calls the disciples over to watch him teach, and shockingly says the only thing that describes what Peter has demanded:
Get behind me, Satan! 
your mind is set on human things, not divine.’
What if this wisdom were to shape our hearts and minds, what would that look like?
Jesus calls in the crowd and says:
Follow me:
deny the system and values of this world
and embrace a heart given in costly solidarity with the suffering;
whatever you hold onto, you will lose;
yet whatever you surrender will be yours forever. 

Story: Gabe and the dance of the Butoh

Gabe was a wild yet sensitive soul. His heart was wide and open to the beauty of the world, its injustices, poverty and pain. His mother often heard of his trips to the ocean, forest and mountains, as well as various, fringe artistic expressions. She was not surprised to hear from him when he landed in Dharamshala at the foothills of the Himalayas, home of the Dalai Lama and centre for countless wandering pilgrims. While there, Gabe found himself immersed in a dance practice called Butoh, a bizarre genre that emerged after WWII. It seeks to draw into the body the darkness, suffering and anguish of the human experience. Finally Gabe felt he could respond in solidarity with the sufferings of the planet and its people through Butoh’s pained and gracious movements. 

One day, exhausted from the strain, Gabe wandered the streets, picking his way through the begging and the hungry he came to rest in the most unlikely of places – a church. Sitting somewhere near the front he found himself before a cross with the tortured body of the Christ upon it. Gabe’s breath was drawn from his body and he slumped in recognition and relief, saying “I don’t have to do this anymore. Someone has already borne the suffering.” Gabe returned to the hostel, packed up his things and as soon as a flight was available, left for home. 

Wherever you call home, come to the dark punctuated sky, the gumtree and winding river,
come to the cross;
come to the bread and the wine:
allow your your breath to be taken away;
have the substance of the suffering God settle in your body
planting wisdom within to nourish the flourishing of wisdom’s fruit.
Be sent out, into the world and before creation
and encounter the Creator
within creation;
be addressed
have your breath drawn and
replaced with a strange way within
leaving no more grasping
just empty, open hands,
ready to receive the only thing that can save us and this world:
a costly love into which we must surrender, 
and become.

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