Edging into 2021

Last year, about the same time as Covid 19 became the backdrop to my days, I began reading The Silent Cry by Dorothee Solle, an exploration of mysticism. It’s not an easy read, which partly explains why I sometimes only mange a paragraph or two before setting it aside for a while. One such paragraph has recently set me musing, even dreaming a little. The Society of Friends, better known as Quakers, are mystics whose mysticism is firmly placed in the here and now. Back in 1668 there were so many of them that they formed into a loose kind of Christian religion, but one without dogma, without church buildings and without clergy.  I took a deep breath!

For months at a time Covid 19 has kept us outside church buildings, inviting us to notice the wondrous presence of God in familiar landscapes and in one another. It’s been like a gap year. The structures that prop up our religious practices have been absent and we’ve had time to experience God in our lives in new ways. As a nation we have hailed an Aboriginal woman as our Senior of the Year, a woman whose message is not couched in theological jargon but in the mysticism of dadirri, finding the deep God-spring within each and every one us.  

Did you start 2021 with a good resolution or two? If so, how is it travelling?

It’s not too late to dig a little deeper and instead of setting yourself a target or two that will probably be difficult to meet, why not choose your own personal Word of the Year.  It doesn’t have to be a single word. It can be a pithy kind of phrase, something relevant to who you are. It will be a word that over a whole year has the power to nourish as well as challenge you, an invitation to step over an unfamiliar threshold and open the door to a kinder, better, more courageous or reflective you. Think of it as a one word prayer to your support person – God.

Every time I write Words from the Edge I am aware of a reluctance in myself to speak out from a feminine viewpoint, even though my life as a Catholic woman has involved me in many different facets of Church life. Restrictions, rules or just long tradition, mean there is a long list of ‘no-go’ areas if you are a Catholic woman involved in ministry. We need to talk calmly, and sometimes passionately, about the things in Church that disturb and challenge us. Over the centuries the voices of women such as the  Canaanite woman, the woman at the well and the woman who was bent over, have been muffled by layers of male interpretation. Inspiration and strength can come from scriptural no-name women. Their stories can be a source of inspiration as today’s women discover or identify their own peculiarly feminine experience of God. We are invited to leave the zone that has us walking in the shadow of an authoritarian male leadership structure, and model a more ‘round table’, collaborative way of being Church.

Judith Scully

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