Welcome to Words from the Edge

This is a site where you can share faith and spirituality with women and men who long to expand their horizons and move more deeply into the wide spiritual dimensions of life. It’s written with the same edgy content that characterised Tarella Spirituality, but simpler to navigate and more tablet and smart phone friendly. You can still reread favourites on www.tarellaspirituality.com

I welcome comments and suggestions. You can reach me at judith@judithscully.com.au

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The year that was

christmas 2018. jpgI will remember Christmas 2018 with this picture of Jack, nine years old, captured in the wonder and excitement of a gift he half believed came directly in response to his Santa letter.

It’s been a year to begin coming to grips with the reality that aging is not an illness, something I’ll get over. I have to live with it. Joan Chittester says that life is simply a series of lives, each with its own task, its own flavour, its own kinds of mistakes, its own sins, its own glories, its own kind of deep dank despair, its own range of possibilities –all designed to lead us to the same end – happiness and a sense of fulfilment in God. These very worthy reflections all take a back seat in my consciousness every time I can’t open a lid, or climb a ladder, or need help to carry four bags of shopping from the car to the kitchen bench. Small everyday reminders that bits of me are wearing out and not all of them are replaceable. And an opportunity to practice graciousness when help is offered.

I have read a smorgasbord of books over the past twelve months. Current fiction, like Tim Winton’s The Shepherd’s Hut and Whipbird, Robert Drewe’s story of  a weekend in the life of a dysfunctional Australian family. Then there’s read-agains by Jewish writer Chaim Potok, whose words feed the mystic in me and Susan Howatch’s series set in an Anglican archdiocese that remind me how not to do spiritual direction. Essays by writers like Ursula Le Guin (No Time to Spare) and Zadie Smith (Feel Free) are for slow reading and I’ve dipped in and out of Mary Olivers poetry collection Devotions as well as her essays, simply titled Upstream. Then, for ‘just one more chapter’ in a genre new to me, Australian crime writing, I’ve read The Broken Shore by Peter Temple and Dangerous to Know by Anne Buist. No new spirituality titles for me this year, instead I re-read portions of books that I have found life-giving in the past, and was not disappointed in what I re-discovered.

In late August my book, A Gentle Unfolding: Circling and Spiralling into Meaning, was book coverlaunched, followed a month later by the sudden death of its publisher, David Lovell. David Lovell Publishing was a one person business and his death meant that follow-ups like publicity and information about sales came to a sudden stop. As far as I can ascertain A Gentle Unfolding: Circling and Spiralling into Meaning is for sale at Paulist Bookshops, John Garratt Publications and on Amazon and Book Depository. Read it and let me know what you think.

This is what my very busy niece found time to tell me after she had read the book.

I meant to email you after I finished your book. I really enjoyed it. We need many more like it. It’s incredible that the vocations of women are ignored or limited. I know many bold catholic women who have inspired people to do great things but done it quietly and organically. They could do so much more if they weren’t hampered by egoists who like wearing fancy frocks and have limited experience with family relationships. Really glad you shared your story. I hope it is widely read and inspires more women to write. Teresa Scanlon 23/12/18

Jack again! He’s in Grade 3 at a parish school and this year his class was prepared to receive the sacrament of Reconciliation. I have to say that I don’t believe sacramental reconciliation before First Communion is necessary for nine year olds – much more appropriate for the parents. What I did appreciate, however, was the link the lessons made between home and church. Like many children today Jack is familiar with time-out for hurtful behaviour followed up by a chat about the why of it all and an apology where needed, finishing up with a hug. If the celibate male clergy of the institutional church were part of a family practice like this they might re-think the necessity of rules regarding children and sacramental Reconciliation before First Communion.

Love is a thing that happens in ordinary places – in kitchens, at tables, in bedrooms, in workplaces, in families. May you find that love in 2019.

Judith Scully

Needing Christmas

December is my birthday month. It was a long time ago and I don’t recall my parents telling me any of the details that marked the day. After all, I was their first child! All I have is the hospital menu for Christmas Day and a couple of baby photos. My youngest brother thinks I’m lucky because he doesn’t even have that. Birth–day stories didn’t make it into our family stories.

Christmas is a birth-day story. The gospels of Luke and Matthew both tell the story of Jesus’ birth, each a little differently. Matthew leant heavily on the hand-me-down Old Testament stories familiar to his Jewish readers, so he didn’t have to explain how they fitted into his Jesus birth story. On the other hand, Luke picks up the human side of birth and links them with Jesus’ divine origins, a focus that his mainly Greek readers were comfortable with.

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Down through the centuries ordinary people took the two stories and made them into one, embellishing them with traditions that fitted their culture. So we have carols and Christmas lights, gifts and re-enactments of this birth-day story. This has never quite satisfied religious theologians who focus on the how and why, the ins and outs of Jesus’ divinity. In have always got pretty fussed about the way the rest of us choose to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

When I read their serious words or hear them repeated in a homily, I am left feeling that the joy of gift-giving, decorations, food and family are somehow irrelevant to real religion. Mary Oliver, a poet, said that her job was to unpeel the mundane to reveal the momentous. From where I sit on the edge it looks as though a whole lot of what is momentous can get lost in the mundane of Christmas or even in the wordiness of theologians.

Families sort out the who’s-doing–Christmas-this-year and who-brings-what. Suburban houses twinkle with flashing lights, inside and out, shopping centres bustle with people thinking about what someone else might want, need, look good in or be amused by. Groups gather in municipal parks to sing Christmas carols, Netflix dusts off a whole range of feel-good movies and work mates turn into secret Santas.

I need Christmas. I need an excuse to recapture the kind of excitement that has children counting down the days. It stirs something inside me that adulthood has tried hard to override. I might bemoan the materialism that surrounds Christmas but there’s always something about it that touches my soul in ways that big business, and sometimes myself doesn’t understand.

Jesus’ birth-day wasn’t wrapped in security and plenty, but there was joy and peace and love, something the world needs, families need. Christmas reminds us to keep alive the story of that first Christmas day, to hear the story beneath the tinsel and Christmas trees.

It’s a time to tell children their own birth-day story, to remember that every birth holds within it all the promise and hope that attended Jesus’ birth 2,000 years ago when God came to live among us and angels sang, shepherds wondered and men from the East brought gifts.

Judith Scully