Archives for the month of: March, 2011

Wami Kata is an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nursing home just near Port Augusta. It is a pleasant, culturally appropriate place of care, a haven in the under-resourced community of Davenport. Unlike the rest of the staff, we are usually white Westerners who come in to provide the religious services. Sadly, not much has changed over the past 200 years and I am painfully aware of the well-concealed power we still hold, culturally and spiritually. Once it was obvious: the Western European religion, spiritual practices and models of ‘church’ were the only acceptable ways to God. Traditional beliefs and practices were scorned, outlawed, and their riches disregarded.

 

At Wami Kata, we looked at paintings on the wall, which captured the wisdom of interconnectedness – between people, their environment and the spirit world. One woman told me how she made bags similar to the Papua New Guinean bilum I was carrying. “It took patience,” she said. Yes, patience, skill and love. Now, at least, we are starting to appreciate all of this, and pay big money for the work of artisans and craftspeople. However, the signs of our colonisation and superiority are still there, partially hidden under the government-funded infrastructure of Western civilisation. It is still ‘our’ way of doing religion and I wonder what it would look like if they could run the show.

 

However, this week was slightly different; the Catholics’ turn to take to the stage. I joined 2 priests – one from Iraq and one from the Philippines – multicultural performers indeed! I was reflecting for us on Sunday’s readings, about Jesus healing the blind man (John 9:1-41) and the works of darkness contrasted to the children of the light (Ephesians 5:8-14). They enjoyed singing along to ‘Amazing Grace’, which fit the gospel perfectly. As I was reminded, a remnant of the mission days. For the epistle reading, however, the image of light = good, darkness = bad struck me clearly in this particular setting. For so long, it has been a physical divider of people, not just the day and night. White skin over dark skin, white ways over dark. Is the image of light and dark redundant or worse, dangerous? At the very least, I needed to emphasise the focus on day/night, seeing and not seeing. Spiritual virtues rather than physical attributes. I don’t know how it was understood at all, or even whether it was remotely sensitive. I do know, however, that we all need the ‘amazing grace’ of reconciliation – with each other, our environment and the world of the Spirit.

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Yesterday was hot and dry. 32 degrees, a typical Port Augusta autumn, and I was having a rather raucous waterfight with young Sri Lankan asylum seekers. Today the water descends, not from cheap plastic guns, but from the heavens. From our kitchen window (of the stunning view) we can barely see the hills on the other side of the Gulf. The air is cool and misty, and a comforting drizzle fills the garbage bin overflowing from the water tank. The air itself is transfigured.

Last Sunday, our community of Sisters climbed Jervois Hill, overlooking Hawker (of the recent funeral). As we set off the clouds were gathering, but we rashly chose to leave the umbrella in the car. Soon it started to spit, then rain, then pour, as we climbed the slope. However, the temperature was quite warm, so we continued our ascent, sheltering with little success next to sparse she-oaks and very low eucalypti. 45 minutes later we were drenched, but the end was in sight. Up ahead was the highest point and, higher up, a patch of blue sky. We stepped up to the cliff, the rain cleared and this (see above) is what spread itself out before us. It only comes immediately after the rain…The sign of God’s promise painted brazenly across the valley floor. What a transfiguration! We were reduced to breath-taken wonder.

And this Sunday’s gospel shares the story of Christ’s transfiguration. When he went up on a high mountain with Peter, James and John, “he was transfigured: his face shone like the sun and his clothes became as dazzling as light.” (Mat 17:2) Moses and Elijah were there, representing the law and the prophets. It was a moment of confirmation, of beauty, of clarity, of splendour. And mighty confusing for the poor, bumbling disciples. But the quality of their relationship with Jesus had changed, he was something more for them. He linked the traditions and the revolutionary call of the Spirit. He reduced their gabble to silent awe.

I pray that you may, too, experience moments of transfiguration in your coming days. May they shine a light on your path, celebrate life’s mystery and leave you dumbfoundedly gobsmacked in the best of ways!

Meet one of our more elderly parishioners…

 

His wife died some years ago and he lives by himself in Port Augusta, with all his family in Adelaide or elsewhere. He is very active in the parish and community, and couldn’t imagine surviving the anonymity of city life. His house is also on my bike route home from everywhere in town.

 

The first time I met him properly, he was to be reading some prayers for the World Day of Prayer. I went round to drop the prayers off, and he invited me in for a chat. What a peasant surprise! Many years ago, it was the very same house that a friend of mine – now in Adelaide – had grown up in. He showed quiet pride in his extensions and improvements that made it more cosy. An even greater pride was in his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren whose photos adorned the walls, cupboards and whitegoods. They seemed to keep him company throughout a quiet existence. As I left, he offered my community some of his delicious home-grown preserved plums.

 

Today I was riding back from Mass and passed the house again as he was arriving. Never one to miss a chance at hospitality, he invited me in for a drink. This time, I heard a little more of his story and some amazing insights into his generosity and understanding. One thing that touched me was his ‘adoption’ of a young Indian woman who had come to Port Augusta to work, leaving her husband and 6-month-old child at home. He helped her get established, learn to drive, sponsor her family out and buy her house. Later he went for a month to India to receive some of her family’s hospitality in return. Giving and receiving…

 

Today is also the start of Lent and the time of giving – our possessions, our time, ourselves. We create a space for God and God’s concerns to fill our individual limitations. And we receive. I remember a few years back going to an Iftar dinner: when Muslims break their fast with a meal during Ramadan. It is similarly a time of giving and hospitality for them, when it is customary to invite strangers to the evening Iftar. But one man spoke to us of the Ramadan side effects. It allowed him to focus and reap the profound spiritual blessings that God is always waiting to bestow. Outside of Ramadan, he was often too distracted to receive and too reliant on his own efforts. So in the sacred months of the religious year, we return our own spiritual and physical offerings. And, like this man and my parishioner, we open ourselves to receive the gifts of the Spirit.

“One half of the world doesn’t know how the other half lives.”

Wisdom tends to seethe out of the ruptures in our comfort zones, when we are alert. A fellow bus bus-traveller shared this gem of truth with me today. We were on our way back home from Adelaide – she to Cleve and myself to Port Augusta. She was Clevian born-and-bred, 60 years there, she told me. She grew up walking 3 miles to school and back, bringing in the horses, milking the cows and fitting in more farm jobs all before tea. She laughed at children these days playing computer games and growing fat! Country blood filled her bones and country friendliness oozed out of her. “Our cousins used to call us ‘country bumpkins’,” she said, “But we used to call them ‘city slickers’!”

However, Cleve did not keep her captive and once she had dared to travel to Europe, despite the protests of locals who thought she was crazy. For 6 weeks she had expanded her horizons, taking in places such as the historic Britain of her ancestors. When in Rome, she drew the above conclusion. Her tour demonstrated the ancient and highly professional art of pick-pocketing. “You can’t imagine!” she exclaimed. I visualised young children whipping the purse out of her pocket just like the Artful Dodger. This experience, I gathered, gave her some sense of fortune and privilege, to be born in country Australia.

I was also taken aback by this realisation yesterday. One of our Sisters was describing her trip to visit Burmese refugees in India. Under one staircase there were three rooms, progressively smaller, in which three families lived. In the largest was a family of five: mother, father, grandmother and two children. The middle-sized room housed three and the smallest had a mother and child. In the rooms, the families slept, ate and worked. She bought hand-woven bags from the women to sell in Australia. Made at tiny looms at which they huddled all day. See Hope Adelaide for information about the products: http://hopeadelaide.org.au/

With the Internet today, our world is even smaller. We can see something of our neighbours on the other side of the planet. Or on our side – those who live in our backyards in third-world conditions. This makes us all global citizens, and raises questions for me about morality and responsibility. Jesus calls us to notice the “Lazarus” at our gate, but now our gate is 3-D and stretches in orbit around planet earth. Can we be ignorant much longer? Or can we choose, like the Clevian, to be uncomfortably aware of the “other half”?