More than just a mum

This weekend we celebrate mothers. My mother passed through my life leaving only faint footprints of the individual who existed beyond motherhood. I saw her through a lens that said Pat Scully, my mother, and not Gertrude Minnie Helyar, the name on the certificates that registered her birth and death. pat2

Gertrude Minnie was a country girl with seven brothers and one sister, who played a mean game of tennis and delighted in a joy ride in an early model crop duster plane. Against her mother’s strong opposition she moved to Melbourne, studied hairdressing and opened a salon, became a Catholic and married my father ditching Gertrude Minnie in favour of Pat Scully. She and my father sank their savings into a small lending library which she ran until I was born. Three boys followed and the go-girl of the Mallee gradually disappeared into mothering.

When I was in my mid-teens she gave me the freedom to follow my heart and God’s call, to swap my family home for the convent. I would be thirty two before I returned home. Those years were lost to both of us and neither of us were ever able to bridge them. She didn’t know the person I was now and I failed to recognise what it must have cost her to have her only daughter living so far away for so long, never there for things like mother and daughter shopping and lunches.

Whether it was instigated by my father’s retirement or some deep inner change, I don’t know, but in late middle age she began playing golf and as a result the china cabinet overflowed with trophies. She persuaded dad to convert the side veranda into a studio where she painted outback style landscapes. She invited her friends to the family beach house for ladies only card playing midweek stopovers. By now I was a mother myself and so absorbed in my own mothering life I failed to appreciate the non-mum like person my mother had become. Then she died quite suddenly.

It sounds weird to say this out loud, but now I’m older than my mother. It’s taken years of life experience to see her as someone with strengths and skills and unrealized possibilities of her own. Gone is the chance to explore the overlapping patterns that we shared, to wonder at the genes and characteristics I have inherited and to recognise familial similarities like my shape, my interest in things religious and the pull of a wide landscape. Maybe if I had been more receptive and she had been less closed-off, she would have told me about my birth and babyhood.

Looking back from my place at the edge of things I am struck by the difference a couple of generations has made. One of my tasks during years as a pastoral associate in a large parish was the recruitment of volunteers for all kinds of parish ministry. First responses would usually be; “Oh, I couldn’t do that. I’m just a mum.” It’s not a common response from today’s confident young mums.
My daughter and her friends are all mothers and all employed outside the home, either full time or part- time. They work really hard at mothering but the way they do it differs in many ways from the way they were mothered and I was mothered. The basics are the same.-they want their children to be healthy, happy, safe. And with their glowing skin, long hair and casual jeans they look years younger than their grandmothers did at the same age!

I love the independence and giftedness of mums today, but I suspect they don’t know much more about their own mothers than I did. Maybe it’s a generation thing, a mixture of the challenges and possibilities that accompany young adulthood and the demands of mothering. One day, like me, they too will find the space to appreciate the women their own mothers actually were – or still are.

To all who mothering women, whoever you mother and wherever it happens, you are never just a mum. You are your own unique self as well as God’s loving face for those you mother.
Happy Mother’s Day!                                                                                          Judith Scully

Words from the Edge invites edge sitters like me to look beyond the obvious and find the God-depths hidden there. Let me know what the view is like from your perspective. You can reach me at


What does God look like?

You have probably heard the story of the child busily drawing at the kitchen table. Mum, showing an interest, says, “What are you drawing?” “God”, responds the child. Now Mum isn’t a theologian but she knows enough to reply, “But nobody knows what God looks like”. “Well, they will when I finish this drawing”, says the child.

A few days ago I found myself in a somewhat updated version of this story. My five year old grandson, encouraged by his dodging-the- question mother, asked me what God looked like. While I struggled with an answer he sighed, handed me the iPad and suggested I google it. Cornered, I used even more words in an effort to explain the inexplicable. He sighed again and asked me to google what Jesus looked like when he was alive again, after he was dead – his words. Now I was on more comfortable ground. I tapped in What did Jesus look like and up popped a scripturally correct picture of a middle-eastern man. Harry took one look and said, “That’s not Jesus! Jesus has long curly hair.”

As you’ve probably guessed Harry goes to a catholic school and along with the wonders of numbers and words he is soaking up catholic-talk. And yes, I could have answered his question a whole lot better, but in typical little kid fashion he ran off to the next thing and suddenly I was off the hook, looking at a middle-eastern version of Jesus and feeling decidedly at a loss.

So, when did you stop knowing what God looked like?

I inherited an image of God as white-bearded man who was distant and authoritative, a scary adult who held eternal damnation over my head if I dared to step out of line. After Vatican 2 that gradually changed to a more personal image, the one that Jesus used when he spoke of God as “Abba”, Father or Daddy.

Early childhood faith is a mysterious and wonderful thing, all mixed up with parental care – God’s love with skin on- and an unspoken, instinctive recognition that they are made in the image and likeness of God. As they get older and more self-conscious they lose their ability to speak simply and directly about God, until around adolescence many, if not most, place the ‘God stuff’ into boxes marked School, Old People, Church and Desperate Occasions.

As I’ve aged, the way I see God has floated around a bit. Relationship with God is never static, always encouraging, inviting us to become the person that God has dreamt we could be, Yet, all the time, God is silent. That’s the really difficult thing about God – the silence. mt-cordeaux_gold-coast-hinterland-hiking-trails

Recently I read this sentence: We come from God, and we return to God, and everything in between is either a lesson, a seduction or an invitation. It’s relatively easy to hear God’s voice in a beautiful landscape, not quite so easy to trust the whisper of seduction or a dreamlike invitation in what would seem to be perfectly ordinary experiences. It was only when I came to a realization that God meets me where I am, and God comes to me disguised as my life, and said it often enough, that I could begin to let go of all the tactile images that once peppered my prayers and religious vocabulary.

We adults don’t trust our personal experience of God enough. Privacy, embarrassment or self-consciousness stop us from letting our children see that everyday experiences of beginnings and endings, freedom, failure and hope are an integral part of a life, lived with faith. It’s a life-long process and I pray that over his lifetime Harry’s question, “Nanna, what does God look like?” will move from wanting to see with his eyes to an inner recognition that God is right there with him, disguised as his life.

Judith Scully