Skip to main content

The Birthing Tree

The Power of Story – Elizabeth Pike

This is the irrational season
When love blooms bright and wild.
Had Mary been filled with reason
There’d be no room for the Child.

Madeleine L’Engle

The birthing tree

Sadly, today, there are many obvious signs of the dying of a type of religion we have known in the past. However, we must not be alarmed, because within the season of November and December we are put in touch with special events such as All Saint’s Day, All Soul’s Day, Advent and Christmas. These celebrations are reminders that point us to the central mystery of the faith given to us by Jesus that it is only through dying that new life can burst forth.

The seed, in dying, dreams and hopes of the new birth of the flower it will become. So we too must die to the signs of death and darkness surrounding us, and dream in hope for a new flowering in faith, for the Australian church of the future.

Ironically a glimpse of this dream could be witnessed in the Aboriginal and Islander theme for their 2006 NAIDOC celebration—‘Respect the Past: Believe in the Future’. This is their dream for the flowering of hope.

It is interesting that this theme should be developed at this particular time. Strangely, as the pace of life rapidly accelerates, amidst countless choices, frequent mobility of employment, endless change and a cacophony of noise, many people are experiencing a radical alienation from nature and the spirit within us; yet, at the same time, there is a deep yearning for quiet spaces, stillness and meditation.

Perhaps it is within such a climate that we hear again an echo of the spirituality of our Aboriginal people. In their ancient wisdom, during times of conflict and strife, their wise elders turned to the quiet and stillness of the bush to contemplate on their problems.

Tom O’Hara sj tells us that the word ‘contemplation’ derives from the Latin words for ‘with’ and ‘temple’—a sacred area of earth long before it became a sacred building.

Contemplation is remaining with the sacred within, reminding us that all reality is sacred, reminding us to be present and aware and to focus in communion with the earth and all around us. Here we can witness the centrality of indigenous belief and the roots from which Christian contemplation is sourced, a welling up from the very depths of our being, the breath of the Spirit living within us.
Here too, during the weeks of Advent, our thoughts can turn to Mary, as she received the breath of the Spirit within her, as she died to self, and waited in hope in the silence of her being for the birth and fulfilment of the words spoken by the angel Gabriel.
The following story links into Mary’s difficulty of finding a safe place to give birth to Jesus.

Just off the Talbot road to Maryborough, in Victoria, there is a large gum tree. So what? you exclaim. This particular tree, however, is a very significant tree, one that could be perceived as a kind of Christmas tree, because it has been given the special gift of sheltering new life coming into the world.

Up until 1840, there were many Aborigines living in the district, while others were just passing through, following the seasonal search for food, this being their way. According to the locals, Aborigines were law-abiding and inherently peaceful.

In those days, Aboriginal law required mothers-to-be to leave family and community when birth was imminent. It was a great comfort for them to find safety within the cave-like trunk of the Maternity Tree, as it was called.

Here they had a special safe place to go for the birth. No doubt the maternity tree would have held special memories for the women who sheltered within its cave-like trunk.

 Mary, too, on that first Christmas night, far from home and friends, was relieved to find comfort in a cave-like dwelling, which was warmed by the animals within, on that cold winters night.
As we prepare to celebrate the miraculous birth of Jesus, let us remember that he was born for all people—including Aboriginal women, who brought forth new life in the womb of the maternity tree, their children and their descendants who are our fellow Australians.

Local tradition tells us that it is nearly a century and a half since the maternity tree sheltered and protected the indigenous women of the area. Now this tree remains simply nature’s monument to the survival of our people.

Having read of this tree, or if in passing you see this tree, you may pray for a special Christmas gift for this country, that racial hatred and discrimination be eliminated. Not only toward Aboriginal people, but for all who come here seeking maternal comfort and peace, before the ravages of time return that giant gnarled tree back to the earth whence it sprang so many generations ago.

Deep inside every person
There is a private sanctum
Where dwells the mysterious
Essence of our being.
It is in this place that
Our God comes to dwell with us.