Driving towards the city along High Street in Melbourne’s inner north can be dangerous once you’ve reached Northcote. There the road narrows and veers slightly right as you begin your ascent of Rucker’s Hill. If you get caught behind a tram at this point in your journey, your next opportunity to pass will not appear until the other side of the hill.
Seasoned Melburnians who travel the route regularly don’t bat an eyelid, appearing content to move forward at a snail’s pace. If you’re not from these parts, however, it can be frustrating. At least that’s until you’re distracted by what’s happening on the sidewalks of Northcote, which is the reason why it’s dangerous.
From an indistinct working-class suburb last century, Northcote has become a thriving multifarious locale comprising cafes, restaurants, bars, bookstores – including Brown and Bunting Booksellers, considered Melbourne’s number one second-hand bookstore on TimeOut.com – and shops selling both designer and novelty wares.
By day, the precinct belongs to an eclectic demographic who criss-cross from all points. By night, couples, families and groups of friends do the same as they park and make their way to restaurants. Later, it’s younger people heading to live music venues like the iconic Northcote Social Club and Open Studio.
Day or night, you can be either stressed by the slow going up Rucker’s Hill or content to observe and breathe in Northcote’s village-like atmosphere. The choice is clearly yours.
But no matter what your mood once you’ve reached the top of the hill and begun your descent on the other side, nothing can prepare you for the breathtaking view of Melbourne that appears without warning. That’s when your innate driving skills are really put to the test.
It’s like you could reach out of your car window and touch the city right then and there. What you felt or were thinking about only seconds before quickly fades and your new view transcends everything. At nighttime, it’s the brilliance of the city lights that whisks you away. In daylight, it’s the combination of skyline above and a tree-line full of colours below.
A new view and a new day
Last week, the view from Rucker’s Hill caught my eye again while driving through Northcote and I pulled over to take it in. In those moments, stopped but with the car still running, a prayer for our coronavirus crisis-stricken world made its way up from somewhere deep down:
‘O Lord, inspire our world with a change of view that changes our hearts and creates a new day for humanity. Heal its peoples. Comfort the millions who mourn. Help us to see differently as we emerge from this calamity and be captured by a new vision for our lives.
‘May we see each other through your eyes of lovingkindness and respond to your call to love God and to love each other as our first priorities. Despite all our differences, give us hearts of courage to reach out and embrace each other as one. May the world be as one.’
It was what some would call an ‘open-eyed’ prayer as I looked out over Melbourne. Perhaps you could call it a Rucker’s Hill prayer, one of many similar prayers being prayed across the world these days, no doubt.
I continued driving but my spirit lingered at Rucker’s Hill. If our prayers for a change of view were answered, what would we see? That’s an important question, because the answers we imagine just might be the ones we should begin living out in our lives. Like we become the answer to our prayers.
When Jesus said that about loving God and loving each other, in the next breath he added that everything else hangs on those two things (Matthew 22:36-40). Hangs on! Imagine what would change in our world if we actually took this advice seriously and made it the focus of our lives and life on earth. Between partners, between family members, between nations, between world leaders.
Imagine if we accessed the power of love to transform our human existence and made it the touchstone for our words and actions across all fields of human endeavor and in the cut and thrust of all our relationships. Imagine if humankind as one experienced a foundational shift in our behavior from criticism to encouragement, tearing down to building up.
Imagine if we could harness the reflecting we have done during the coronavirus period and carry it forward into a new day for humanity, a day focused not on the progress at all costs from our pre-virus lives, but on the flourishing of humanity and of the earth as our shared priorities.
Back to prayer: O Lord, pour out the power of your love throughout the earth. Give us the humility to confess our pride and the courage to refocus our lives on what’s really important.
Peter McGuigan is a Salvation Army officer currently serving in Melbourne. The writer of several books and a substantive body of feature and opinion articles, Peter has served in senior communications roles in The Salvation Army and has held several editorships. He holds an MA (Writing) and is a former President of the Australasian Religious Press Association (2008-2011).