Seed Planters

In 2009 my brother gave me a website for my birthday. I named it Tarella Spirituality, in memory of the Mallee country space and silence that surrounded my long-gone grandparents’ farm. Unlike my ancestors, I’ve never sown a paddock with wheat or barley seed, but I do see myself as a kind of seed planter – planting spirituality seeds, and it’s Jesus’ seed parables like the one below that keep me going when my Tarella Spirituality seeds float away from my edgy space and into the everlasting space that is the internet.

The sower went forth to sow.

and some seed fell on the wayside

Some fell amongst thistles

Some fell on stony soil

Some seed produced a fine harvest and some gradually withered in the hot sun.

Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain.  (Matt. 13:4-9)

The thing about planting seeds is the uncertainty of it all. As I watched the TV footage of banner-waving women calling for a stop to sexual violence against women in this week’s Women’s March 4 Justice, my mind wandered back through the long line of women, mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers, memorable teachers and women who broke barriers, right down to women across these country who had gathered to demand justice and equality for themselves and their daughters and grand-daughters.

Only God knows what will come from similar seeds that have been planted over centuries of oppression. Will the soil of custom and indifference that we live in begin to break up and those long planted seeds sprout and green into a more equitable and non-violent world. I hope that they will not lose heart, not get tied up in set-backs and frustrations, and gradually wither away.        

A while back Clarissa Pinkola Estes said something that I have found heartening in the face of political, legal and religious pressures that have squashed similar demands in the past. Do not lose heart. We were made for these times. We are built well for these times. Despite stints of doubt, your frustrations in righting all that needs change right now . . .  we are not alone.

Seed-planting is collaborative: God, you and I, do it together. It’s not just about justice and equality for women in all walks of life, or the place of women in one of the last strongholds of male power – the Catholic Church. It stretches across to loving care for the aged and disabled, a whole-hearted acceptance of the debt we owe to Australia’s Aboriginal population, and an open-armed welcome for people who have fled war and terrorism. The seed planting goes on.

An Arab proverb says: Every morning I turn my face to the wind and scatter my seed.

Now, it is not difficult to scatter seeds, but it takes courage to go on facing the wind.

And Jesus the seed-planter said, ‘A man throws the seed on the land. Night and day, while he sleeps, when he is awake, the seed is sprouting and growing, how, he does not know. ‘

 And the sower went on sowing.

Judith Scully ( judith@judithscully.com.au)

Women on the edge

Occasionally I’ve been unwillingly drawn into discussion about the correct way to behave in a church building. It’s usually a disagreement between someone who views the church building as a place of prayerful silence and those who love to sit there before mass commences and chat with friends. Thinking about it, I keep returning to the Last Supper. That took place at a dining table of friends celebrating a religious and historical occasion. Until custom-built gathering places became the norm 300 years later, Christians gathered around the bread and wine in each other’s homes. 

Australian Catholics have a history of both ‘house churches’ and purpose built churches. The first Mass in Australia is said to have been celebrated in 1803, not in a church but in the front room of a tiny cottage owned by the Davis family. It wasn’t till 1821 that the foundation stone of St Mary’s in Sydney was laid.

Early Catholic settlers, and in some cases our parents or grandparents, worked hard and sacrificed much to build churches that they felt looked like a church should. I have vivid memories of a country parish community being really damaged over a decision to move the altar into the body of the church, with seats placed around it. Heated questions were asked about who really ‘owned‘  the church – the parishioners who wanted a more user friendly space, or those who said that nothing should be changed . The reality is that some of our older churches, beautiful as they are, don’t meet our worship and gathering needs today

Even Jesus had trouble with his place of worship, the Temple in Jerusalem. The religious leaders used it as a means of commercialising and marketing the Jewish people’s access to God. A deeply disappointed Jesus responded to the injustice of that by overturning tables of produce and scattering livestock.

House churches may be the ideal, but we need the focus  of a building that gives us the space to gather, celebrate Eucharist, farewell our dead, welcome our babies. We need to do that with dignity and a sprinkle of tradition. But we also need to do it as 21st century Australian Catholics. And when we gather, we also want to hear the Gospel message from both a masculine and feminine perspective.

 A new podcast, Australian Women Preach, an initiative of Women and the Australian Church (WATAC) and the Grail, aims to highlight and share the voices of women breaking open the Word of God in words and ways that are meaningful to people today. Starting 8th March, weekly episodes will be released with preaching on the following Sunday’s Gospel. The initial episode features Jacqui Remond, co-founder of the Global Catholic Climate Movement, and Joint Co-ordinator of the Vatican’s COVID-19 Commission for the Ecology Taskforce.

It’s a start, but it’s disappointing that an issue such as the place of women in the church, is also a source of division. There are those who want to keep hold of everything and those who would like to see sweeping change,  those who would like a bit of both and those who find the whole religion thing irrelevant. For all of them the church building is something of a symbol. I would hope that the Church of the 21st century does not put itself beyond the reach of Jesus’ overturning hands.

                                                                                                                 Judith Scully