Aboriginal Methods for Modern Faith


The Aboriginal people use a method of navigation where they recite songs about landscape features to travel across the backcountry as well as communicate directions through the use of this verbal map known as a songline. By singing the songline in the correct order, these indigenous travelers are capable of accurately navigating massive distances through the Australian landscape simply by picking out landmarks from the song along the way.

Back in Genesis 13, Abram used a variation of this concept by building altars at the different locations where God blessed him. These altars in today’s context are landmarks where God showed up in a memorable way. We all have these moments, but I’m betting that most of us are pretty bad about recalling the good times, especially when we are staring up at the obstacle in front of us. Sometimes we think He is not the same God in the current dilemma, but we need those landmarks as a reference point to keep us oriented to who He is and where we’ve been.

There has been a lot of value in adopting the songline or landmark method in my life by building an on-going prayer list that has only two categories: Asked and Answered. It didn’t start out this way but was an adaptation as I started to notice how many things on the list had been answered. These answered prayers became landmarks to me, places in my life where I could see how God showed up in both critical and complementary ways. 

The prayers on my list that have yet to be answered become a milestone that I keep my eye on as I walk in my faith. Between the landmarks of answered prayers and the unanswered milestones I wait on, I stay oriented to the journey that God has for me. This songline I’ve established reminds me of his action in past events and I’m better positioned to see him move in current and future situations. 

The songline approach has changed my prayer life as well. Sometimes I don’t even get to the items on my prayer list because I’m scrolling through all those landmarks of the past saying, “Thank you” and I’m no longer burdened by the requests I showed up with, but instead, my prayer turns into worship that brings His peace. I leave focusing on who God is in my life and not what problems remain. 

When I taught land navigation at the Air Force Survival School, one technique we used was point to point navigation. You are literally moving from landmark to landmark so as not to stray from your course of travel. By now you can see the parallel with our faith is trusting these “landmarks” God has placed in our lives so even when we get disoriented or hopelessly lost and our mental compass tries to pull us from the path, we have a solid point of reference that keeps us moving in the right direction.

Think of the big answers to prayers in your life, are they landmarks that you’re frequently referencing to stay the course and remind you of what God brought you out of? Do you realize that this is your very own songline with God? If you need some motivation on songline development, David lays out a pretty solid template in the Psalms. Keep in mind that the songline is also a method of communication so, once you’ve got a songline established, share it with a friend who needs encouragement. Also, “sing” it to your kids who’ll need these waypoints as they walk their own path.