Thank you Miriam-Rose

A week or so ago I was in a shopping centre, masked up, on the search for bits and pieces to complement our nearly-but- not- yet- finished kitchen renovation, when I came face to face with a large poster featuring an Aboriginal woman. In that moment present time stopped as the decades rolled back. “That’s Miriam- Rose”, I said, very loudly.  

Back in my early thirties when I was still wearing a religious habit, I was sent to teach at the Catholic Mission of Daly River. The school was a small building, just two rooms, me in one with Grade 3 up and my assistant teacher, Miriam-Rose, in the other with the junior classes.

Tall and slender, with a natural elegance that deep down I envied, Miriam-Rose spoke good English and managed her classroom with a competence that I appreciated. Now I’m embarrassed to admit that I knew next to nothing about her life outside the classroom, never even asked. Maybe it was because I was struggling with personal problems that left little room for anyone or anything else. By the end of that year I had left the Northern Territory behind and was back in Melbourne, living a different kind of life.

It was probably about ten years later that I read these words in a piece called Dadirri  – written by my Miriam-Rose.

“Dadirri recognises the deep spring that is inside us. We call on it and it calls to us. This is the gift that Australia is thirsting for. It is something like what you call “contemplation”. When I experience dadirri, I am made whole again. I can sit on the riverbank or walk through the trees; even if someone close to me has passed away, I can find my peace in this silent awareness. There is no need of words. A big part of dadirri is listening.”

This was a time in my life when I was beginning to look more deeply at the religious traditions and practices that were the underpin of my Catholic faith. As I read, and reread, Miriam-Roses’ words they found a home in me, a place that for much of my life had been empty and waiting.  The religious culture I inherited is one which is mostly expressed within a building – architecture, painting, music, sculpture and lots of words.

My 12 years living on Aboriginal missions had drawn me into wide open spaces, spaced out gum trees and a land more brown than gold. Miriam-Roses’ words both encouraged and challenged me to look for ways I could integrate Australian elements into the way I wanted to live out my catholicity.   I began to trust the pull I felt to explore places and spaces where God has written and painted my story, the landscapes that had been the backdrop of my life experience, and as such, my God experience.

I wanted to be an Australian Catholic, not a Roman catholic. I wasn’t looking to replace it with a way of being that is known as aboriginal spirituality, but I wanted a spiritualty that was able to integrated into the colours and cycles of the Australian landscape, tactile practices and words that recognise  our  relationship with each other, with the land, and an appreciation of time that is cyclical, rather than linear.

Simply put, I had begun to dream that some Aboriginal beliefs and practices may one day be seen as a precious gift for the way we Australians live out our Christian faith. Thank you, Miriam-Rose, for your part in my story.

(For more about Miriam-Rose I suggest you search Dadirri)

Judith Scully

Christmas on the edge

It’s been a very long Advent this year, but we’ve made it – well almost! Just another week to go.

Back when we were experiencing our second Covid wave,  the possibility that we might have to spend  Christmas in lockdown gave us the kind of push to do whatever it took to face up to this deadly virus. We masked up, washed our hands, clogged Australia Post with online shopping and discovered ways to live together, or maybe alone, within house walls – and waited.

We waited for Premier Dan’s midday announcement of numbers up, or on a good day, down. We looked forward to a one hour walk, smiling at masked passers-by and patting friendly dogs. Some of us, children included, waited for school to resume as we resolved to never underestimate teachers again. We booked Zoom calls with friends and family in the world outside our five kilometre radius and spoke hopefully of getting together for Christmas.

These words, written by Kathy Gallway in A  Pattern of our Days,  speak of a Mary waiting to birth her child. They also remind me of our Advent-like lockdown:

To wait

To endure

To be vulnerable

To accept

To be of good courage

To go on

Day after day after day;

To be heavy with hope

To carry the weight of the future

To anticipate with joy

To withdraw with fear

Until the pain overcomes

The waters break

And the light of the world

Is revealed.

For years now, as Advent has come round on the Church calendar, I’ve tried to write words that capture the deep spirituality and theology of Christmas. Deep down I tut-tutted about end-of-year activities and Advent calendars presided over by Father Christmas, endless snowy jingles and frantic shopping blocking out Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus.

This year, a year when waiting hit hard as it became the new norm, I think I might have learnt something valuable about Christmas.   We in Australia are gradually moving into what we trust and hope will be a Covid-free world. Meanwhile much of the world still waits where Christmas is on the calendar but Advent isn’t over.

And what have I learnt? Well I think I’ve flicked some of the churchy spirituality that has been blocking my vision for years. Now I see that however Christmas is celebrated, the fact that it is at all, that its universal emphasis on family, friendship, getting together, a desire for peace and joy, is given to us by our God who could find no better way of expressing how much we are all loved than wrapping it up in a family.

The Bethlehem baby will still get lost in a welter of tinsel and ham and presents, but amidst all that is love; family and friend love, love expressed in care and empathy for a world that is deep in suffering, and Love that is God expressing God’s self and gifting it to us. And as Kathy continues,

Delivered with pain,

Bringing new hope to birth

In your waiting world.

May the God of love and paradox, who chose a stable over a palace for the Christmas event, bless you with a deepened awareness of the love that shines through the ordinary places, as well as the broken places of life.

Judith Scully