NEWS!

I find it hard to believe that Tarella Spirituality is now ten years old. In the blogging world that’s a long time. Now seems to be an appropriate time to retire the current format and replace it with something simpler and more tablet and iPhone friendly. All the articles and Gospel reflections that are currently on Tarella Spirituality will still be only a click away at www,tarellaspirituality.com.

My new site, Judith Scully: Words from the Edge, will be online in the next few weeks. In the meantime you might like to have a say in what topics and ideas you would like to see explored in these new pages. Send me a note at judith@ judithscully.com.au and I’ll definitely consider.

And in case you are wondering, all current subscribers will be notified in the usual way when Words from the Edge is up and running. .
I look forward to ‘seeing’ you there.

And now – my last contribution to Tarella Spirituality.

Lent’s sooty fingerprint

The arrival of lent has been threatening me ever since hot cross buns appeared in the supermarket the day after Christmas. Even though I am decades and decades away from my childhood, whatever I absorbed about lent during those impressionable years continues to tiptoes into my now and whispers, “What are you giving up for lent?” It was always lollies, though my mother put a different spin on possibilities the year she chose to deprive herself of her favourite radio serial, Blue Hills. Desert bloom #10

Since about the 8th century lent has begun with a sooty thumbprint. There’s nothing very life-giving about ashes. It’s a doom and gloom kind of symbol, a solemn reminder of the fleetingness of all things. If you know the story of Cinderella you’ll remember that before she got to dance with the prince she spent a lot of her time sitting in the ashes. And this is the theology many of us have been taught: before we can be transformed we have to sit in the ashes.

The timing of lent owes its origin to the early catechumens preparing for their Easter baptism. A long preparation culminated in a liturgy marked by a smorgasbord of symbols – jugs of scented oil, the laying on of hands, water, lots of it, new white clothes and the bread and wine of Eucharist – all emphasising the new Christian’s recognition and acceptance that their soul was imprinted with God’s thumbprint.

The first time I was thumb-printed was at my baptism, when the priest signed my forehead with oil. In the years that led up to my confirmation, when I was once again thumb-printed with oil, I don’t recall anyone telling me that this anointing was an ancient and tangible sign of my specialness, a recognition that I was created in the image and likeness of God.

Like every child who has ever come into this world I was born imprinted with God’s loving touch. That touch lives in me as a mysterious God memory, something we express in biblical language when we say we are created in the image and likeness of God. The more I’ve thought about this, the more my understanding of baptism and of being Catholic has changed.

Over centuries the religious focus of the weeks before Easter moved away from baptism and become defined by the buzz words of prayer, fasting and alms-giving. We are encouraged to join a Lenten Gospel discussion group, eat fish on Fridays ( the supermarkets encourage this), put our spare cash in a Project Compassion box or Children’s hospital tin and maybe give up chocolate or alcohol for a whole six weeks. This year, in a statement leading up to lent, the Australian Bishops asked catholics to take part in four days of fasting and reparation. They linked this to the trauma and institution has experienced as a result of the child abuse scandal and tragedy.

These are all worthy Lenten practices but, sitting as I do on the edge of my catholicity, none of them appeal greatly to me. Even though I know that in any given day I leave a trail of ‘could do better’ .behind me, the Jesus of the Gospels shows me over and over again, that the relationship God and me is as individual and personal as a fingerprint. That fingerprint was God’s birth gift to me, something my parents accepted in my name when they chose to have me baptised.

Now that’s something to spend time appreciating this lent.
                                                                                                                       Judith Scully

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Not just one day

This year, more than any other, I have been aware that there are two Christmas stories. Both are wrapped in appealing and evocative words and images, but the lack of connection between the two disturbs me – maybe you too. The society we live in has hijacked the first Christmas, taken the baby out of the manger and replaced him with a different story, one that’s about Santa, tinsel and toys.

We decorate trees, light up our houses, wrap gifts, maybe dream of a white Christmas, and for one special day try to gather as a family. It’s what I do too, but it leaves me feeling a little empty because the Person we were celebrating doesn’t get a mention.

A week later we’ve waved off the year that was and welcomed in the possibilities and hopes of the new. The Christmas decorations are stashed away till next December and the supermarket is selling hot cross buns.  Epiphanyt

The rest of Matthew’s Christmas story – the mysterious East, wise men, stars, gifts and jealous kings has been almost forgotten, relegated to church services. Epiphany is not just about the journeying or the gifts that speak of wealth and power. They are the exotic wrapping of an unbelievable gift, God hidden and yet revealed in a hungry, crying and powerless baby.

Most of us would have exchanged thoughtfully wrapped presents at Christmas and while we like to guess it’s often quite fun when the wrapping gives no indication of the gift within. Some years ago I gave my eldest foster son Paul a Target gift card for Christmas. He had become part of our family when he was ten. Now in his forties, he lived alone in a noisy public housing block in another state, grossly overweight, out of work and struggling to keep up the payments on his pride and joy, an aging black Statesman. On Christmas day he rang me to say thank you for the gift and to explain that he had given it to his friend Emma, “who has nothing and needed it more than I did”.

We call life-changing events “epiphanies”. If we let them in they have the power to change us in small but powerful ways. I had one of those moments when Paul told me about Emma. Suddenly he wasn’t “poor Paul”, but someone who lit up some ungenerous corners in my own life. His appearance didn’t give a clue about the lonely, loving and generous man he was then, and still is. I was left with a loving resect for this man who has caused me tension in the past. For the first time I caught a glimpse of the Paul God sees and loves.

It’s so easy to write people off, to label them as fat or ugly or old or whatever. We do it to ourselves too, mistaking our own wrapping for the whole gift. It only takes seconds for us to mentally list all the things we don’t like about ourselves. The beginning of a new year is traditionally the time to recapture what we would like to consider as our best self, the shiny bits that are splintered from God and are the only things that matter.

We forget that how we are wrapped encloses the gift we really are. Maybe 2018 will help us all to appreciate that.                                                                                                                Judith Lynch

 

 

 

 

Christmas Greetings

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“O little babe of Bethlehem,
the Southern Cross shines down,
as once a star shone glorious
above an Eastern town.”

Thank you to all who have read my words this year and passed them on to others.
I may not know you by name, but your online presence in my life gives me the audacity
to keep writing.

Wherever your town is, may the light of Christ shine on you and yours this Christmas and during 2018.

Judith Scully

Advent days

It’s December and the days are longer, the air is warm and colour is everywhere. Christmas carols are ringing through shopping malls, Christmas parties have begun and Father Christmas lookalikes are confusing little kids right across the country. Here in bushy Warrandyte it’s bushfire season too, and I‘m in fire-ready mode, my overnight bag packed and tucked into the car boot, my computer is backed up and copied on to USBs all ready to transfer to my daughter’s suburban home.

And it’s Advent. Australia is a wonderful place to celebrate Advent.

jacarandaOut walking, or driving from one place to another watch out for the jacaranda tree. Even though jacarandas grow all over the world, only ‘down under’ does it that stretch its brilliant purple-blue blossoms across back yards and public places during Advent. Those vibrant flowers on what are essentially stark branches are a symbol of the contradictions that surround the celebration of Christ’s birth. It can help to remember that the Advent purple of the Jacaranda is replaced by soft fernlike leaves that will give shade from the summer sun.

If you have a Missal take a fresh look at the words of Isaiah, the Old Testament prophet and poet. When he says things like, “Let the wasteland rejoice and bloom. Let the wilderness and dry lands exult.”(Is.35-1), I could almost imagine they were written on an Australian farmhouse veranda. When you water the garden or the pots on the patio, like Isaiah recognise the dry places in your own life – pray them.

Parents and those who are young at heart might like to borrow or buy Rain Dance, a children’s book which graphically and colourfully pictures a woman and her two small children waiting for the rain on a farm in Australia’s outback. (Rain dance / written by Cathy Applegate, illustrated by Dee Huxley). It’s a lovely Advent book that I return to year after year. Rain Dance

Christmas is often the only time of the year that extended families gather. This lead up to Christmas can be a good time to bring out a family photo album, to hear and tell family stories, especially birth stories. After all, each of us has had our own nativity filled with the same promise and hope that surrounded the first Christmas.

It’s an even better time to steal some personal time to gently reflect on the ups and downs of our life. I know, for many December is a busy month, so rather than waiting for a space in the rush and chaos consider timetabling a weekend walk or a late night cup of tea, for a sliver of precious personal time to link up with the God who is present in every twist and turn of your life story .

Now here’s more words from Isaiah, as he dreamt of a Messiah to come: “Arise, shine out, for your light has come, the glory of Yahweh is rising in you, thought night still covers the earth and darkness the peoples.” (Is. 60 1-2) It’s possible to recapture the feel of his words when you take an after-dark drive around your neighbourhood to admire Christmas lights.

Or take a walk on a clear night and look at the stars. Have your own Christmas star. Ours came from Ikea and shines brightly every night of the Christmas season – and a little before and after too. As the Gospel of Matthew says, “And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.”

sophiaMay you find traces and echoes of Sophia, the one John named  The Word, right through Advent.

Judith Scully

Tracing Sophia

Trying to write about God ties my words up in knots. Ì write a sentence, then press delete it because the words I’ve used don’t say what I’m trying to express. God is so mysterious. Just when I think I might have a sentence or two that might just wrap up some deep God truth, they drift away like smoke from a chimney and I’m left with nothing. But I need words, and at this stage of my life I have found comfort and a measure of God understanding in the naming God Sophia, Wisdom
To name God Sophia is to dig deep into the Old Testament, to move away from words and images that call to mind male power, assertiveness and strength. For those of us who have tired of God images which don’t recognise more personal qualities such as love, empathy and creativity, naming God Sophia comes with the breath of new life. Sophia moments, God moments, are tucked away in the ordinariness of everyday.

This week I took a sticky beak look at a Costco store. Everything about it was big, overpowering, some of it was tempting, but . . . I was reminded of this story by Anthony de Mello. A woman dreamt she walked into a brand new shop in her local shopping mall and to her surprise, found God behind the counter. “What do you sell here?” she asked. “Everything your heart desires,” said God. Hardly daring to believe what she was hearing, the woman decided to ask for the best things that a human being could wish for. “For myself I want peace of mind, happiness, wisdom and freedom from fear, and I want my children and my grandchildren to be good Catholics.” God smiled. “I think you’ve got me wrong my dear. We don’t sell fruits here. Only seeds.” Definitely not Costco style!

 

I’m a point and click photographer and intricacies such as light and distance are beyond me, but I would like to share my bottle brush photo with you. We live among the ever-changing green of gum trees and this annual splash of red is a delight and maybe a reminder, too, of more sombre things.
Colour me red, passionate God, for the anger of the oppressed, for those who hunger and thirst for justice and peace and for all who labour to give birth to love.

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Every month some women I know meet to talk about what’s going on in their lives. It’s mostly ordinary stuff with an extra-ordinary edge. These women are serious about their spirituality. They are women of prayer, sometimes formal, more often the kind that punctuates a day. Without exception, all of them live with a creative openness to the needs of others, whether it’s family, friends or the wider community. There is something about them that feels like freedom – as though their attention to God’s voice as they hear it, their acceptance of life as it unfolds has set them free to recognise their inner truth. I call them Sophia women.

 

It’s taken a long time, but my book is nearly there! The editing process is coimagesmpleted, even though I’m still not sure where and when capital letters apply or a dash replaces a comma, but I bow to the editor who knows his grammar. It has a title and a very nice photographer has given permission for me to use a picture taken in the Victorian high country. I’m looking forward to sharing more news with you as the move to publication speeds up.
sophiaMay you find traces and echoes of Sophia in your day.
Judith Scully