Chaplain's Reflection - what if the answer is "both"?

Chaplain Fr Richard Browning

Chaplain Fr Richard Browning

Can a person be both punished and restored?

Is it possible for a person to be responsible for the consequences of an error and also be redeemed?

Can people change?

People can change. That was Myuran Sukumaran’s message to leaders and politicians. He was asking people to look into his eyes and see for themselves. We can still look into his face, filtered, for it is in canvas and oil; art. Remarkable art. He was executed as a member of ‘the Bali Nine’. Myuran was not asking for a free pass. He found meaning in art and was content to work inside prison for the remainder of his days as a teacher, mentor and artist. He had an irrepressible urge to live and make art.

Myuran was a human being declaring he wanted to do both. He wanted to carry the cost of his mistakes, and also live in a way that brings life to others.

Can two opposites be held together?

It was my brother Tim, recently appointed as the Headmaster at St Peter’s College, Adelaide, who helped me look at this afresh, through the lens of science. He cited Maxwell’s work on the speed of light, which challenged the well-founded norms of Newton’s laws. Light travels at a fixed speed. If two particles approached each other at the speed of light, would they not collide at twice the speed of light? Maxwell said no. and so the common question might be “who is wrong”?

What if that is the wrong question? Could we not ask “what if they are both right”? How might this be so? It was Einstein who led this pursuit, and his extraordinary work now called the special theory of relativity describes how. It includes some mind-blowing ‘new’ realities: time bends! The faster you go the slower time ticks. Within this is another mysterious reality: light is neither a wave nor a particle. It is both.

The search for both is a precious kind of seeing. It arises from an uncommon questioning that is neither spiritual nor scientific. It is both. Here, reality is encountered through the imagination in a way that makes reality’s strangeness more present and accessible. (Remember, Jesus’ preferred teaching methodology was with symbol, metaphor and story.) This uncommon questioning, this dangerous search for both, this wild imagination, is what our world aches after. It is a practice that will make us better artists, scientists, politicians, colleagues, co-workers and human-beings. It is a way of thinking that makes us better followers in the Way of Jesus.

  • There is a way to be wholly for another, while remaining whole myself
  • There is a way to charge the immoral, unlawful actions of another, and increase their healing and humanity
  • There is a way to build jobs (in regional Queensland!) and safeguard the environment
  • There is a way to stand with Ahed Tamimi and Palestinians, whilst also standing for Israel
  • There is a way to honour human beings, refugees, and our responsibilities as signatories of UN conventions, while also safeguarding our sovereignty, our values, our limited water
  • The grace and power of God is perfect and, simultaneously, human beings have autonomy, freedom, dignity.

There is a greater reality in both. Jesus, the ‘God|Human’, opens up the way in which we can practice this way of seeing. God’s urge to create is the exact same urge to heal and redeem. This heart for the healing of the cosmos is driven by love, not judgement (John 3:17). Jesus, the one in whom ‘all things are held together’ (Colossians 1:17) breaks open the lie of separation, between God and creature, between people and others. The rage inside Jesus at the temple (John 2:13-22) is triggered by dividing walls, false partitions that separate what is not meant to be apart.

O God. Awaken us to both.

Stir in us a wild imagination, a hunger for uncommon questions and impossible insights. Breathe your Spirit here, awaken our senses and fill us with light.


*Read Year 11 Visual Arts student Milie MacCallum’s article about 'Another Day in Paradise', a major exhibition by artist Myuran Sukumaran and others, now on at Tuggeranong Arts Centre until 29 April 2018.

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