‘If you were asked to share with others an inspirational prayer or poem or quotation which is a source of strength for you in your life, what would you choose?”
This is the question Rosalind Bradley posed to 450 people of different faiths and backgrounds, who have made a significant contribution to contemporary Australian life through their extraordinary capabilities, or by their courage in adversity, or for the magnitude of their good works or for the position they hold in society.
Over a third responded. Some are quiet achievers while others are well known.
The result is Mosiac, a rich anthology containing the enduring wisdom of the Bible and the Qur’an….the inspiring words of the Pope and the Dalai Lama…the sublime wit of Shakespeare and Michael Leunig….The collection identifies aspirations common to everyone, as well revealing the eclectic nature of Australians’ quest for meaning. With more than 150 prayers, lyrics, poems and personal affirmations, Mosiac is the perfect resource for school assemblies and the classroom. Each entry includes a biographical note, a reflection and a source.
Contributors include Tom Uren, Aziza Abdel-Halim, Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton, Adut Dau Atem, Tim Winton, Gabi Hollows, Anthony Field, John Eales, Petrea King, Andrew Denton, Charmaine Solomon, Peter Singer, Rabbi Jacqueline Ninio, Peter Sculthorpe and many more.
1. Television and radio presenter Andrew Denton chose this Buddhist-like poem (author unknown)
Watch your feelings; they become your thoughts
Watch your thoughts; they become your words
Watch your words; they become your actions
Watch your actions; they become your habits
Watch your habits; they become your character
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.
Reflections by Andrew Denton: I think these words are true.
2. Phillip Aspinall, the Australian Anglican Primate, has looked to Michael Leunig for his inspiration, and provides the enigmatic
Love is born
With a dark and troubled face
When hope is dead
And in the most unlikely place
Love is born:
Love is always born
3. A one-time Sudanese refugee and now medical student, Adut Dau Atem, chose words by her father Dau Atem Yong.
Even if you are starving, you must never ever steal anyone else’s food, no matter how hungry you are. If you do not have food yourself, then you are meant to be starving. Be patient, your time will come. It is never acceptable to take what isn’t yours.
Reflections from Adut: These are the words of my father. When the bombs went off in our school and I became separated from my family, he was a political prisoner. Later, when he was released from prison, he walked for two years trying to locate his family, who were scattered all over the Sudan.
I’d been at a refugee camp, on the Kenyan border, for four years when he walked into our camp. By then I was 13 years old. I’d thought he was dead. It is hard to describe what it was like living in a crowded refugee camp with 90,000 other people. We were given one cup of maize and some oil to eat every two weeks. We had to walk a long way for water and we brought it back in big buckets. When there was no food, we called those ‘black days’. My father would sit us down on the dry dirt with the dry wind blowing in that place where there was no hope, hold us together and speak strongly to our souls, encouraging us to believe we could be anything we dreamed we could be. His words became an echo inside me, helping me to find strength when I had none. He would encourage us to go to the little school at the camp, even when we could not concentrate because of hunger. He loved us and we knew and felt it.
He organised a sponsorship for siblings and me to come to Australia. Two years later, they found my mother whom we thought to be dead. We hadn’t seen her for eleven years; he hadn’t seen her for fifteen. He died two days after she arrived in Australia. His strong spirit is still with me, guiding and encouraging me to keep going. I miss him terribly.
7. Avril Alba, Director of Education at the Sydney Jewish Museum chose
If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
And if I am only for myself, what am I?
And if not now, when?
Rabbi Hillel, Pirke Avot 1:14.
Pirke Avot, usually translated as The Ethics of the Fathers, is a collection of rabbinic sayings found in the Mishnah, the central text of the Oral Law, codified circa 200-300.CE
Although deceptively simple, this axiom encapsulates the complex reality in which we all live, work, play and love. As life goes on, it increases in difficulty, and in our desire for simplicity, it is tempting to either subsume the self in the name of the ‘greater good’ or, alternatively, turn away from the community as a means of control and ‘self-preservation’.
What the sages remind us of is that to succumb to either position is to relinquish what it means to truly live: to actively engage with the self and with one’s community, and in so doing contribute toward the ongoing mending (in Hebrew, tikkun) of the world. However, there is no idealisation of this lifelong project. Rabbi Hillel exemplifies the wisdom of classical Jewish sources and their ability to explore the dialectics of human experience. They require the individual to challenge and care for both self and others as the foundational experiences of a truly spiritual life.