From Australia: The Parable of the Desert Oak | Spiritual Directors International


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From Australia: The Parable of the Desert Oak

Guest Author: 
Rev. Dr. Peter Bentley

Australia is primarily a very dry and barren country on the surface. Much of the continent’s landscape is covered with semi-arid vegetation that comes and goes with the various seasons. However, hidden deep under 23 percent of the continent is what is known as the Great Artesian Basin, which is the largest and deepest artesian basin in the world, according to Wikipedia. This basin provides fresh water to many of the dry inland areas of Australia spanning four states and territories. The basin lies in some places more than a kilometre below the surface.

One of the amazing plants that rely on the water from the basin is the desert oak. The desert oak grows as a spindly tree with a single stem and no branches to speak of as it sends its roots down in the dry fertile soil of central Australia. Sometimes taking years, its roots continue to grow deeper into the red earth seeking a sustainable source of water.

Without assurance of success or knowledge of what lies before it, the young tree root continues into the deep soil drawn on by the hope of finding what it needs to be sustained. However, when the young desert oak finally reaches the water basin deep below the surface, an amazing transformation occurs. The desert oak starts branching out and its foliage thickens to provide shelter for birds and animals and shade for the plants that grow under its expanding canopy.

What a pertinent illustration of the human journey into the dark and deep places of the soul. As spiritual companions, we accompany our fellow pilgrims as they deepen their life experience with patience and persistence. They send their spiritual roots down into the rich and fertile soil of their being. Drawn on by the desire to tap into a common source that will sustain them,  they long to spread their branches out to provide life-giving shelter and support to those around them and the world in which they are planted.

Spiritual Directors International exists to support spiritual directors/companions and those they support. As SDI embraces the challenges related to being a worldwide organisation, I have been asked to coordinate communication here in Australia. In light of this, I’d like to hear from members throughout Australia and the Asian/ Pacific region about what is happening in your work - as associations, formation programs and individuals. Please e-mail me about your key issues and how you would like SDI to support you and the contemplative companionship community here in Australia.


An ordained minister, Peter Bentley was appointed Director of the WellSpring Spirituality Centre in 2003.  His initial formation in spiritual direction was through the WellSpring Centre where he graduated in 1996. Peter has completed a Master of Arts Degree looking at the use of the Arts in association with spiritual direction in a Creative Retreat context and a PhD thesis examining spiritual direction formation and a particular approach to formational learning. Peter currently lectures in  postgraduate spiritual direction formation programs through the University of Divinity, Melbourne. He also presents workshops and retreats in Contemplative Practices and the Enneagram. Peter has served as President of the Australian Ecumenical Council of Spiritual Direction and been a member of the Council of Christians and Jews. PeterB@sdiworld.org

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