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some countries, this might be weeks after the civil ceremony or possibly years later, when the romance has died off and been replaced by a deeper understanding of love.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

A jumble of newness

It might be July 2017 but just now it might as well be New Year. Along with taking-a-deep-breath and buying a new car, I’m getting a new knee, and moving into the final stages of publishing a book – my first.

The day before yesterday I took delivery of the new car. The handover was accompanied by a little car dealership liturgy – with a flourish the salesman pulled back the large black cloth decorated with a Christmassy red bow, revealing my new car in all its silver newness.

The car I left sitting in the trade-in parking spot was seventeen years old and like myself, battle-scarred by the years. No accidents, just shopping centre scrapes and dints as well as marks left behind when I was learning to negotiate our narrow carport and curvy driveway. Together we had covered well over 200,000 kilometres, lived in four different locations and received one speeding ticket and another for running a red light.

Then there’s the total knee replacement, a TKR as the surgeon calls it. Arthritis is responsible for the cartilage around my knee joint deteriorating, making it difficult to walk distances and affecting my balance. I had similar surgery some years ago and it’s a painful process, the rehab challenging.

Right now I am a jumble of expectations around all this newness. I know the car will be comfortable and safe, but will I ever come to grips with the technology winking and blinking at me every time I turn the ignition key?

I long to be mobile enough to walk down to the river or stroll along the winding streets that twist around our hilly suburb. I place these expectations in the surgeon’s hands.

And it’s no easy thing to write a book that tries to be true to the past, to capture long ago decisions and recognise that God was there in all the turns and twists – then invite people to read it.

All this newness is my present, my now. Over the next couple of months while I’m learning to use new technology, slowing down and letting my body and a physiotherapist dictate the how of my day, taking the risk involved in exposing my vulnerability in words on a page, the now will open out minute by minute. Every moment will be a new invitation and God will be there, right in the middle of it.

This week I read these words, “Prayer happened, and I was there.” If we’re not in the moment, then we miss out – and God misses us.

old-ladies dancing

For the next few months posts on Tarella Spirituality will be shorter and infrequent while I recover my mobility and work with the publisher to finish the book. If you’d like to chat you can reach me on

Judith Scully


Ghost gum wisdom

It was March 2013, and sitting at my writing table wondering what to write for The Good Oil, I looked up, and as if for the first time, saw the ghost gum outside the window. Inspiration! I began typing.

In the spot where a front fence would be if we had one, stands a towering ghost gum. At least 20 metres tall, it stands out among the masses of slender eucalypts that crowd the outer suburban valley where we live.

ghost gum nth warrandyte Mike S cully

Ghost gum Warrandyte (Mike Scully)

In the weeks leading up to Easter that year I started to appreciate the tree’s scarred trunk and the gradual way that its bark gently peeled away in fading strips. Tentatively I recognised that in God’s sign language it was speaking to me about death and resurrection. And that’s what I wrote about.

As the months went by this tree was finding a place in my inner storehouse, the place where memories, images and experiences hid away until unwrapped and their depths explored. Some were Wow moments, like my first glimpse of Uluru or the joyful unexpectedness of a wet season waterfall near Wadye.

I only have to close my eyes to recall the timeless sandy road that gently curves its way past what remains of Tarella, my grandparent’s farm in the Victorian Mallee. That image lodged itself deeply within me, surfacing years later when l was looking for a name for my website. And to this day peace settles in me as I recall the baby waves that rippled softly along the beach where my family lived the year I turned 11.

Now this ghost gum was saying, “Look at me”, inviting me to admire the way the sun caught the broad brush sweeps of orange, gold and brown that splashed its soaring creamy trunk. Backdropped by the night-dark eucalypts it kept a ghostly vigil while I slept. Day or night, I not only couldn’t escape it; I didn’t want to.

Early autumn, a year later, I heard a loud crack and looked up to see one of the ghost gums very large limbs falling, ever- so- slowly, onto the front drive. There it lay in the evening silence, the noise of that crack still ringing in my ears, lesser branches scattered all around it like carelessly thrown prunings.

Right through the spring it had shed its winter bark ready to absorb the summer rains, but that year they never really came. In the long hot summer its roots struggled to find water pockets deep in the rocky ground. Gum trees self-prune, which frees up sap to flow through the spreading canopy to the furthest tips of the longest branches. My tree knew it was time to let go of its largest branch.

That was three years ago and my ghost gum is still there, its creamy white trunk stained with rusty patches, like left- out- in- the- rain corrugated iron, its height punctuated with a scattering of dead branches. Where once birds played hide and seek among the leaves, there’s seven jagged wounds. In God’s sign language, these deep scars speak to me about ageing, about the unwanted letting go that happens as the years mount up, about the woundedness that sometimes drags my spirit down when sleep eludes me.

Wounds are what’s left behind after something I’ve valued and thought was mine to have and to hold is taken away. They speak of change and loss, of life lived and people loved, of perceptions and relationships let go, of mistakes made and opportunities lost. I’m finding that’s a big part of getting older, a wisdom familiar to my ghost gum.

I leave my desk and walk down the driveway, craning my neck to see what the view from my window hides. High up a gently moving canopy of leaves leans to the left, like a woman with her hair falling over one side of her face. My ghost gum might be lopsided but it’s still vibrantly alive. Deep inside the trunk the sap runs strong and new life flows through the spreading canopy to the tips of the furtherest branches.

There’s an inner energy that I know as grace, and when I let it in I feel alive, not at all ‘old’, even if that’s what the bystander sees. This wounded tree is teaching me that aging has its own beauty and strength, that the tragedies underlying my wounds and the pain of letting the past go, have left behind the gift of spiritual long-sightedness, the ability to see life connexions with a vividness not possible when I was younger.

In time a pair of lorikeets, delicately boned and beautifully feathered, built a nest in the hole left by the fallen branch. They come and go, flashing life and energy in exchange for shelter, bringing value to what might appear valueless. They, and the tree that is their home, tell me that we who are older still have something to share with the world.

They are telling me a story God has written in Australian sign language.

Judith Scully

Ghost gum wisdom was written for The Good Oil (, 20/6/17

Women opening the Word of God

Mention Pentecost and up pops a picture straight out of my primary school bible history book. Year-B-8th-Sunday-Pentecost-Titian-1-657x1024

In words and images the Acts of the Apostles painted a more dramatic picture – wind that howled and swirled like a cyclone hitting land, fire that threatened to burn but warmed and excited instead, multi-lingual crowds that caught that excitement and felt hope rise within them.

Whatever happened to it?

Jesus commissioned his followers, women and men, to cast that fire upon the earth, and they did. But in little more than a hundred years the dominant male culture gradually took over and a women’s role in the Christian community was whittled back to cooking, children and the sick. And that’s how it has stayed.

I was born into a generation whose faith education was pre Vatican 2. As a young adult I realized that I wanted my church to keep pace with the world that was opening out around me, but I had no words to explain the hunger I was experiencing and nowhere to take it.  Then Vatican 2 happened and I knew that this was what I had been waiting for.

Vatican 2 was a Pentecost happening. Like the first Pentecost, the Spirit of God blew through it with the power of a cool change on a baking hot Melbourne summer day, a babble of excited words that made no distinction between genders, a flame that could no longer be contained.

There were flexible liturgies, music that sometimes set my feet tapping, at other times touched my heart. Small discussion groups opened me out to the recognition that scripture was something of a  Tardis. It not only told the Jesus story but contained all our stories. New ministries opened up to lay people, women and men – pastoral associates, hospital chaplains  and spiritual directors. Ordinary people discovered that contemplative prayer didn’t only belong in monasteries and Carmelite convents. We began haltingly to drop the he when we spoke about God.

Somewhere during those years I was invited to speak at a World Day of Prayer in a suburban Uniting Church and I was comfortable saying yes. In the way that these things happen, that afternoon led to an invitation to occasionally ‘share a message’ with a Uniting Church community that had no permanent pastor and relied on a roster of retired ministers to lead their Sunday service.

Every time I stood at the lectern ready to share whatever Scriptural reflections and insights I may have gathered from my personal reading of the Sunday Gospel, I was conscious that what I was doing was counter-cultural for Catholics.  For close on two thousand years it has been seen as inappropriate for catholic women to be preachers of the Word in their own church. This not only saddens me but it irritates me because for these two millennium the Good News has been skewered to male terminology and experience.

Jesus told stories that appealed to both men and women. He used images that often were peculiar to his women listeners. He never meant his words to apply to men only. He had women friends and ignored the cultural taboos that restricted them. He knew that most men approach just about everything from a structured kind of thinking, unlike women who dance around topics and let their hearts dictate responses that just don’t fit those structures.

I want to hear homilies that open up the Word of God from that untidy female perspective, shared by women who have experienced the push and pull of relationships and the joy and chaos that often accompanies them. I want to know how the Gospel echoes through their lives. I want to be asked again, this time by my baptism church, to retell the Jesus story in the light of my own.

I’ve had to pull back my expectations in the more than fifty years since the Second Vatican Council. But maybe in a generation or two women will be welcome to open up the Word of the Lord at the Sunday Eucharist in Catholic churches around the world.

IMG_2471 (2)My neighbour’s small Japanese maple gave me heart as I wrote these words. Its fiery autumn glow stood out in the sea of eucalypts and native shrubs that surround the houses in our little street. It reminded me that the Pentecost flame can never be extinguished.

Judith Scully