Follow the Songlines

new song in an ancient land

Music by Ron Klusmeier
Words by Shirley Erena Murray
Tune Name: DREAMING TRACK

Lyrics as Poetry

Follow the songlines,
follow the Spirit
singing the world
into being anew,
follow the theme
of the ancient ones’ dreaming,
footprints in faith
that the track will run true.

Time beyond time,
dream before dreaming,
one Holy Spirit
has sung the design:
pathways of peace,
widening circles,
music and dance
that declare the divine,

Follow the songlines,
follow the Spirit
singing the world
into being anew,
follow the theme
of the ancient ones’ dreaming,
footprints in faith
that the track will run true.

Fire may flare,
searing our courage,
earthquake of doubt
shake the words that we pray:
look for the shoots,
green-growing saplings,
look for the hopeful
amid the decay,

Follow the songlines,
follow the Spirit
singing the world
into being anew,
follow the theme
of the ancient ones’ dreaming,
footprints in faith
that the track will run true.

New songs be born,
sensed by God’s longing,
new lines be drawn,
in the rock, in the dust,
calling out love,
calling out justice,
calling a people
to grow and to trust,

Follow the songlines,
follow the Spirit
singing the world
into being anew,
follow the theme
of the ancient ones’ dreaming,
footprints in faith
that the track will run true.


Words by
Shirley Erena MurrayCopyright © 1996 by Hope Publishing Company
Carol Stream, Illinois • USA

Comments About Song

Comment by
SHIRLEY ERENA MURRAY
from her book
“Every Day in Your Spirit” (#9):

“Written for an Australian Liturgical Conference of the Roman Catholic Church on the theme ‘New Song in an Ancient Land’. The songlines are invisible pathways connecting up all over Australia, ancient tracks made of the songs which tell of the creation of the land. The Aboriginals’ religious duty is ritually to travel the land, singing the world into being afresh.”


Every Day in Your Spirit
is published by:Hope Publishing Company
Carol Stream, IL USA


A Reflection by hymnwriter
WALTER FARQUHARSON

There is so much for us to hear, appreciate, sing and embody in the hymns of Shirley Erena Murray. I believe this hymn to be one of her finest. Those of us who write have a few pieces that we particularly treasure and that we hope will somehow endure in the life and worship of Christian communities, and perhaps even beyond in the memories of any who happen to have been touched by the words, music and theme. I wonder if this might be one Shirley felt that way about.

Joan and I had one visit to Australia. Fortunately that included time in the presence of some Aborigine elders. We heard many stories, were captivated by the music of ancient songs and ancient musical instruments. We felt the desert lands, the rocks, the reality of the need for conservation of land and water and human energy, the importance of wisdom appropriated from prior generations and from the mystical, personal land itself. We heard of the songlines, the essential walkabouts, the call to community and the honouring of each person’s life pilgrimage. Although it was important, we were told, to understand that transient life was more about pilgrimages than it was about a pilgrimage. In the midst of a deep awareness of timelessness and continuity with all that has gone before, there was a profound sense that it was this moment with its demands and opportunities that we were all called to honour. I remember thinking of how we who are privileged moderns think of paradox as complicated, a matter for the sophisticated and much educated. Yet our knowledge of paradox only touched the surface, the aborigine peoples lived it and were immersed in it through their songs and stories.

The tradition of pilgrimage, not to be confused with religious tourism, is deeply embedded in the practice of Christianity over many centuries. Equally it has been part of a large number of the world’s religions. Pilgrimages have taken people to the sites of wonderful blessing and to places where the worst of human atrocities are remembered. Many of us have taken children or grandchildren on family pilgrimages – remembering places and families of origin. Visits to museums often become short visits to touch our personal and communal pasts. Even the sorting of family photos and memorabilia can have aspects of pilgrimage about them. The character of auction sales has changed in recent decades but I recall how communities gathered for dispersal and estate sales more to remember paths travelled together than to seek bargains.

The town of Herschel, Saskatchewaan is a small community not far from the farm where I grew up. They have created an amazing museum in what was formerly a school. Many summers they hired student interpreters who helped visitors understand what they were viewing and they also took individuals and small groups on tours up into the surrounding hills. There was the place where the last white grizzly seen in Saskatchewan had been shot. There were evidences of enormous buffalo hunts. There were also the places, used for centuries and still sought out by first nations people on a dream quest. That pastureland is holy ground.

As a rite of passage, many first nations youth went into a place of isolation on a dream quest. They slept in the shelter of large rocks or in hollows in the grassland. Usually fasting was involved. At night the coyotes howled nearby, black bear might rumble and grumble past them. Owls filled the night air with messages that carried great distances. If night cold was extreme or the hot sun showed no mercy – all was to be endured without complaint. The hope of the dream seeker was that the Great Spirit would bless with the gift of a name, a totem, an awareness of a task to be completed or a gift to be nurtured. If no such blessing was bestowed, there would be another time. There could be no manipulating the Spirit or the spirit messengers.

Contrast this with what our society so often offers as rites of passage. Hazings, abusive and belittling initiations, a first big drunk, sexual exploitation, becoming the recipient of a new expensive toy. Not many years ago a youth in big-time trouble with the law pleaded affluenza as an excuse for crime and a reason for avoiding all responsibility. Similar justifications are used to excuse the already privileged members of our society. As I write this, lawyers for some accused of crimes connected with their participation in the January insurrection and storming of the US Capitol in January 2021, blame the media and even the Trump machine for rendering their clients incapable of being responsible for their actions! While pilgrimage, following the songlines, engaging in a dream seeking, all point to coming of age and accepting responsibility, many of our societal models and accepted pathways are journeys into self-serving, cynical disengagement.

“Follow the songlines,
follow the Spirit.
singing the world into being anew.
follow the theme of the ancient one’s dreaming,
footprints in faith that the track will run true.”

We do well to remember that so much of what has been passed down through the church were ways to help us follow the songlines of the faith. We observe Sunday as the Lord’s Day, day of resurrection, in order that we might live resurrection, equipped to be Christ’s body in the world doing Christ’s work of healing, forgiving, empowering. We gather together because we are called as a united humankind to live with and for each other. Paul told the Corinthian Christians that when they gathered at the table and shared the bread and wine they were to remember that they were doing this not as a memorial but as a living proclamation, a sign that day by day they showed (demonstrated) Christ’s life and death until he comes. “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.”

It is important to hear “Follow the Songlines” as a powerful invitation and an opening into clarity about who we are and who we are called to be.

“Fire may flare, searing our courage,
earthquake of doubt
shake the words that we pray:

look for the shoots, green-growing saplings,
look for the hopeful amid the decay.”


Possible Activities

1. Take a walk – around the block, down some pathway, wherever you choose. Keep in your mind, “Surely God is in this place.” Stop a few times along the way and speak the words aloud. When you return home ask yourself how that exercise changed anything for you. If you are restricted to a chair or bed and can’t physically go for a walk, imagine your journey. It may be to familiar places but, imagination is imagination; no one can put the limits on it for you.

2. Not many of us have been asked to memorize anything for a long time (well, maybe excepting passwords and IDs). I suggest you memorize this hymn. Practice it until you really know it. Surprise some friends by reciting it. It could open up some good , and fruitful, conversations.

                                                    Audio Sample

"FOLLOW THE SONGLINES"
Refrain, verse and refrain
played on piano

Scripture References

  • Genesis 28:10-22
  • Deuteronomy 31:11
  • Deuteronomy 31:30
  • Job 38:1-39:29
  • Psalm 116
  • Luke 4:1-15
  • 1 Corinthians 11:17-26
  • Revelation 1:9-11

Season, Theme
or Subject

  • Creation
  • Dream, Dreaming
  • Faith
  • Justice, Human Rights
  • Peace
  • Pentecost
  • Spirit
  • Trust

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