Breathe with me

By Bridget Ransome

Posted in News

When I first saw the Ancestors’ Retreat event advertised, I was intrigued by the concept of the spiritual wisdom of Australia’s First Peoples and Europe’s ancient Celtic Christians being brought together as a topic.

I was born in Liverpool in the United Kingdom of Irish parents and spent most of my childhood between the contrasting landscapes of working class Liverpool and the pristine countryside of farming Ireland. So it was with thoughts of my Celtic origins that I attended the Ancestors’ Retreat in Moonta over the weekend just gone.

Friday evening Rev Dr Denise Champion and Nelson Varcoe wove storytelling and music to set the scene for what was to come. I found during the quiet reflection time my mind wandering back to the memory of clamouring as children over the ruins of The Rookery in the remote Irish countryside. A building of old stone ruins just across the field from my grandparents’ cottage.

It wasn’t until I was much older I found out that the Rookery had been the home of my great grandmother and she had been turned out by the British!

On the Saturday morning at the retreat Nelson once again led us in song and I especially connected with ‘You gave it all for us.’ I was reminded of the songs of the Irish which are embedded in my soul, where the Irish are seen as loving a good yarn and a drink with happy songs, there is also a deep longing, a melancholy through the Irish psyche and I could hear some of this also in Nelson’s voice.

We were shown a video and the opening words resonated deeply … ‘To know me is to breathe with me. To listen deeply is to connect, flowing waters,’ this was Dadirri – the deep inner spring, inside of us. We were asked to reflect and to let things rise up that may wish to come to the surface as a way of deepening our sense of identity regardless of our heritage, culture or background.

Displacement was discussed and we were drawn into the many times that displacement had occurred in the Bible: Adam and Eve; Abraham, Jacob, Jesus Mary and Joseph, and how Paul displaced himself to spread the good news.

In today’s society the reality of displacement is palpable. I again went to my past, of my parents as they made that decision to emigrate to Australia, leaving everything that was familiar to them so they could give their children a better life. What courage it takes to leave everything behind and to embark on the new.

Rev June Ladner spoke of our need for connection - to our ancestors, culture and God if we are to survive and mentioned her own Cornish ancestry. She went on to speak about what divides us and how as a society we often place ourselves in opposition to other, and reminded us not to create the burden of difference as this is already playing out on the world stage.

We were presented with the stories of Celtic saints: St Patrick, St Piran and St Columba and learned of ‘thin’ places where the connection from the real world is closer to God: Glastonbury, Ioan, Carnbrae and Madron in Cornwall.

Over the weekend I came back to the question time and time again: Am I English, Irish or Australian? My cousin was on the retreat with me, she is not religious but she found the weekend to be profoundly moving and she too had questions around her heritage, and the heritage of her two sons who are half Maori. Both boys are about to embark on a trip together to visit their Maori tribe in New Zealand for the very first time, an important journey of identity for them as they move from boyhood to manhood.

We lit candles during the retreat and had time to pray. We sang together and enjoyed Cornish hospitality and were reminded again of the Dadirri video, that God always breathes with us, and we breathe with God. We breathe with each other as we take in the same air and we invite people to breathe with us.

I extend my sincere thanks to the working group that brought the weekend together for their tremendous hospitality and to the beautiful Moonta Uniting Church. From my perspective it was a precious time to step away from the busyness of life, to connect with our ancestors and with God, and to re-affirm how important it is to just be.


Ancestors’ Retreat Working Group

Rev June Ladner, Rev Dr Aunty Denise Champion, Rev Mandy Harvey, Dr Rachael Litchfield, Rev Ann Phillips, Trevor Phillips and Tarlee Leonardis.

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