This morning I attended my first Anzac Day dawn service at the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne. Thousands of Australians attended similar events in most Australian capitals, not to mention numerous smaller services held at memorial halls and RSL clubs around the country, and military bases both in Australia and overseas. It was a very moving experience to take part in a time of solemn reflection and commemoration of our war dead.
Driving home afterwards, I listened to ABC radio’s Anzac Day coverage. They interviewed the great grandson of a war veteran. He said something very profound when he described this day as “sacred” to him. Sacred is a spiritual word. I dare say that many Australians would feel the same way as this man. The service itself had quasi-religious elements, with choral music and a responsive reading. The atheist movement tells us that religious belief is declining. In particular, some of its proponents are presumptuously and arrogantly forecasting the end of Christianity. Australians are typically apathetic about organised religion, but social researchers tell us that Australians’ level of interest in spirituality remains healthy and shows no signs of dying out.
This is not an original observation, but based on what i saw this morning, surrounded by thousands of people, and seeing how moved they all were by the ceremony, it seems to me that this day has a deeper spiritual meaning that binds people together and transcends whatever differences they have. While some people try to deny or denigrate it, spirituality is an intrinsic part of humanity. Perhaps this is part of the reason why Anzac Day resonates so powerfully with ordinary Australians who are compelled to get up early on a cold, dark Autumn morning and participate in its rituals.