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

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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

Sophia

It’s taken me a long time to leave behind the Old Testament images of God that I inherited, with its pictures and words that appeal more to males than females. It was only when I read the lesser known books of Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, Baruch and the Book of Wisdom that I discovered God imaged in a myriad of female roles. In them the word used for God is Sophia, sapientia on Latin, or Sophia in Greek, and it’s definitely feminine.

Just now my favourite God image comes from chapter 8 in the Book of Proverbs. Imagine a desert city three thousand years ago, walled and gated, sandy roads converging on the one opening. This was a men only place, where business was discussed, contracts were 45c1b47407ebd5f345921d29a75808e2--good-art-oil-paintings negotiated and legal matters settled. Into that sea of men strides Sophia, unafraid, interested in all that was going on, seeing issues from a female perspective, ready to listen to all who would talk with her. “At the highest point along the way, where the paths meet, Sophia took her stand.”

That’s where I find my Sophia God – in the midst of whatever is going on. She’s always ready to listen, encouraging me to find her whatever and wherever life takes me.
And that’s why Tarella Spirituality looks a little different today. I’m replacing my longish focused topic with bits and pieces of my everyday, brief accounts of times and places where I’ve found traces and echoes of Sophia.

 

We’ve heard a lot of sad stories over the past few weeks as the voluntary euthanasia bill is debated in the Victorian parliament. I’d like to counter them with the story of Ruth, my oldest living relation who died three weeks ago aged 96. We only met her in the last year of her life, and that was thanks to Ancestry.com. Through it we discovered a shared grandmother – one great back for her, two for me. Her father had rarely spoken about his family background and she longed to know more so her eldest daughter began the long search to find out more. My brother came across that search, and the rest, as they say, is history.
We were able to visit, to tell her what we knew about her father, her grandmother and her great grandparents. It wasn’t a lot but it brought a new dimension to her life at a time when her hearing and eyesight had all but disappeared. Her seven children surrounded her with laughter, memories and their loving care right up to the day she died. I’d like to say rest in peace Ruth, but resting wasn’t her thing. So my prayer is: Ruth, teach me to live with joy.

Who are the saints in your family? As a child I listened to stories of the saints. They all seemed to have the same things in common: they lived a long time ago, they died very painful deaths, usually through martyrdom, they had feast days and lots of them seemed to be priests, bishops or nuns. Then and there I decided that sainthood was something that was out of the reach of ordinary people.
Now I know differently. For every Francis of Assisi and Teresa of Avila there are thousands of unknown and long forgotten mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, friends, co-workers, neighbours, nurses, supermarket employees and other individuals in various occupations and countries, who all lived prayerful lives, imbued with the Gospel values of Jesus Christ. Sometimes we forget that it is Church teaching that all baptized Christians who have died and are now with God are considered as saints.

 

It’s spring! SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA
Take your shoes off and feel the earth beneath your feet.

Try a vegetable that is new to you.

Float a flower in a bowl of water.
Pray Psalm 148

 

 

This week my nephew and his wife adopted an eight month old baby boy. What was the spare bedroom and the new dad’s writing space has had a makeover and is now known as the baby’s room. I know the joy that a child brings when a couple become a family, because many years ago my husband and I adopted two baby girls as well as fostering a family of three school age children.
Welcoming a baby or a child into a family, however it happens, isn’t easy. It opens up young parents to the gradual realization that the life that was, is now gone. I am delighted that another great- nephew has come into my life. My gift to this new little person will be a book – and the offer of a helping hand or a listening ear if his parents ever need it.

 

My knee replacement is nearly four months old and I’m still struggling to walk any distance without discomfort. I wrote a poor me email to a friend who sent this reply:
Accept what is,
let go of what was,
and have faith in what will be.

 sophiaMay you find traces and echoes of Sophia in your day.

Judith Scully

Yes or No

When the Australian Marriage Postal Survey landed in my letterbox my first response was predictably off centre and sent me trawling through computer files for this particular photo. Cheeky.JPGThe look says it all. Somebody just said, “No Harry”, as he heard it, a typical grownup response to something as harmless as taking all the books off the shelf and throwing them on the floor. Such fun!

But that was then. Now he’s five and has already learned to counter No with Why. The patient parental explanations that follow, give him time to look for the flaw in them, an excuse to change the No into a triumphant Yes.

Five letters, two words, and nothing simple about either of them.

The Australian Marriage Law postal survey makes them seem so simple – Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?  Mark one box only – yes or no. From a legal perspective, even one of justice, the answer would seem to be Yes. But, I’m a catholic and ever since I’ve been in a tangle of thought about the very particular beliefs about marriage that catholics are taught.

According to Australian law marriage is an either/or choice –a man and a woman can choose a civil ceremony or a church service. The celebrants of both are licensed by the government. But, if as seems likely, this law is extended to cover same sex couples, then it seems only just that people licenced to be marriage celebrants should be obliged to abide by these laws – no exemptions. All couples who marry would do so in a civil ceremony.

Experience tells me that catholic marriages seem to fail as often as those that that began with a civil ceremony. It would be more honest if couples could choose to sacramentalise their union in a separate church ceremony. As already happens in some countries, this might be weeks after the civil ceremony or possibly years later, when the romance has died off and been replaced by a deeper understanding of love.

“Love one another” slips easily off the tongue, like a religious slogan.  Jesus said it and he didn’t hedge it with restrictions about who can be loved, and who not. Love is the glue that keeps people together. Civil marriage is basically a legally binding document which gives the man and the woman who enter into it certain rights and privileges meant to protect that relationship. Sacramental marriage is recognition of marriage as a visual sign of God’s love for us expressed in relationship.  

Over the centuries catholic teaching about marriage has gradually become wrapped up in theological language, losing touch with the way life is experienced in a multiplicity of cultures.  Marriage for catholics is hemmed in by rules and regulations about procreation and the education of offspring. It’s “till death do us part.”

I said earlier that my thoughts about all this are tangled. Harry is growing up in a society where sexual diversity has become part of the fabric of society. I grew up in a church that presented itself as the keeper of sexual morality. Now I’m not so sure that they got it right.

Judith Scully

 

Water Walking

Water walking 2This morning I’ve been water walking. The temperature outside hadn’t yet hit double digits but the indoor pool was comfortably warm. Six weeks ago a surgeon replaced my damaged knee with a clever piece of technology that is guaranteed (well, almost), to have me walking pain free and limpless some time in the next few months.

The weeks after my knee replacement have been painful, and the necessary pain killers came with their own trail of side effects. Originally I had assumed that I would read my way through the weeks of recovery as well as enjoying a lengthy list of pre-recorded movies and TV shows. Instead, all my energy has seemed to focus on the present moment. I wasn’t expecting that.

Most of the books remained unread, the movies unwatched and those weeks became an experience of what I guess is meant when we use the word awareness, just being. It was confronting to recognise that I like my experiences of ‘being’ to come in small chosen, comfy kind of doses, not to linger with me all day, and quite often all night too as I struggled to sleep.

Rehab introduced me to weekly sessions with fierce looking exercise machines designed to rehabilitate all my knee bits and pieces that had been replaced by technology. Then, maybe as a reward for expending all that energy, my new knee and I followed it up with water walking.

Water walking helps me feel ordinary – no limp or pain. No crutches needed. The silky pull of the water supports me, offers me the possibility of a rejuvenated future, introduces me to others who also need healing.

While I walk pool laps up and down, backwards and sideways, I catch snatches of conversation. Punctuated by watery side-kicks two women chat, something about a shared operation, one three weeks earlier, the other due in a week. A heartfelt “Thank you for telling me that”, floats on the air.

An elderly man is lowered from a wheelchair into the pool and as his feet touch bottom he smiles delightedly and I return it. Briefly I am reminded of the man Jesus noticed at the pool of Siloam, waiting for someone to help him into the water where he hoped to find healing.

Moving towards the deeper end of the pool I find myself walking on tip toes, aware of the increasing weight of the water and with it the fear that I might lose my balance. The water is refreshing, but it is also challenging. Like Baptism. Having water sprinkled on my head as a baby hasn’t exactly give me a strong appreciation of the sacramentality of water. With that brief awareness I head to the safety of the side rail and the exercise sheet the physiotherapist has prepared for me.

A couple more laps of the pool and I tread carefully across the tiles to the change room. I’ll be sore tomorrow while the exercises continue to do their work on my slack muscles, but my water walking has stimulated something in me that feels fresh and alive. It’s been my pool of Siloam.

Judith Scully