We all need a place of refuge from the stresses of daily living. Many of us seek time out in our own private havens, be it the study or a corner of our room surrounded by favorite books, a place of quiet reflection and spiritual regeneration. How much more is such a place needed in a hospital, where the daily experience is one of shock, loss, reassessment, high drama, joy, beginnings and endings. In October 2000 a large public hospital in suburban Dandenong, Melbourne, Australia, introduced a unique experiment for such a place of refuge called "The Sacred Space."
Like many modern communities, Dandenong is made up of people from many different ethnic and religious backgrounds. It seemed inappropriate to have the usual hospital chapel devoted to only one path of religious expression. In consultation with representatives of all the major faiths in the area, a new place of consolation, prayer, and healing was designed, a place where people of all faiths — Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Baha'i, Jews, and those of no outer faith adherence — might find welcome, peace, silence, and healing comfort.
In the corridor outside this peaceful place, food trolleys and patients on their way to surgery flash by; doctors, nurses, and concerned relatives rush hurriedly on their respective duties. Inside the Sacred Space, one is greeted by a display of the sacred books of seven of the world's great religions. In the background one can hear the quiet babble of a fountain, as one bathes in a subdued light, for Light and Water are the common symbols of healing and life for all peoples. Shrines to all the major religions are provided with equal prominence, and there is a private room for grieving families and those needing space to seek inner refuge in their own way. The rooms of this special place are painted in colors representing the sacred natural sites of the Australian aboriginal peoples. The rich ocher and dark brown walls represent the soil and the rocks of the Australian outback, the sage green ceiling the forest canopy of the eucalypt forests.
The quiet-spoken custodian speaks of brotherhood, equal respect for all spiritual paths, and welcoming solace for all regardless of their religious background. As she was speaking, I thought of all those brave individuals who have sacrificed for centuries to have such concepts accepted in the general community. The sum of such achievements as the Sacred Space indicates the gradual consolidation of a new way of thinking, a new "continent of thought," that bodes well for a more brotherly future.
Dandenong is built on the land of the Bunurong people, but is at present under the custodianship of the Wurrunjeri people. At the entrance to the Sacred Space is a beautiful painting by local aboriginal artist Beryl Wilson, based on the traditional symbolism of the Kulin Nation people, The Great Land of Banjil. The following story by Janet Turpie-Johnston accompanies it:
In the time of the beginnings . . . . . . . . . .
the land of Banjil, the great wedge-tail eagle, was where the ancestors lived in peace and harmony with the land and all that the creators had created.
These were a people of warm skin and dark eyes. They followed in the tracks of the creator spirit and they built their campfires in the places where the spirit people had sung and danced before them.
Into this time of the ancestors there came a people whose hands left heavy marks upon the land. A hard death came to the harmony of
the ancestors. There was great turmoil and fear. The ones with the brown eyes and the brown skin became ill, and their spirits retreated away from the land.
The Great Rainbow Serpent arose from her slumber in the land. She circled around the children and took them in her folds. There she holds them, and there she protects them. Banjil, the great wedge-tail eagle, then came from his place in the skies.
Banjil, the one who flies from the ends of the earth,
from the ends of the waters,
from the ends of the mountains,
captured into his wings those who have been lost and hurt.
Banjil now soars with them. He takes them into the places where his spirit still sings and dances with them.
The Dreaming is again emerging and weaves its story into the lives of us all.*
*Story copyright © 2000 by Janet Turpie-Johnston
(From Sunrise magazine, February/March 2001; copyright © 2001 Theosophical University Press)
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Beauty and solitude — these are still the shepherd-kings of the imagination, to compel our wandering memories, our thoughts, our dreams. — Fiona Macleod