CathBlog - Love and womanly dignity in Wadeye

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BY JUDITH LYNCH

Among the photos I took in Darwin a couple of years ago is a picture of a middle-aged woman called Daisy. 

When I had last seen her she was a shy, gangly teenager working in the kitchen at Wadeye and I was a teacher, not much older than her. Eventually I moved on and all I heard of her in the intervening years was that she had married John. 

I remembered John very well. He was a Missionary of the Sacred Heart Brother – young, very hard working and always the first in the church every morning and again, showered and freshly clothed, just before the evening meal. Evidently love blossomed between the two, John was released from his vows, married Daisy and they moved to Darwin. 

Years later I happened to be in Darwin when a former colleague died and went along to the funeral Mass. There I met Daisy again -two grey-haired women, two different backgrounds, joyfully hugging each other and talking about their grandchildren. 

It’s such an ordinary story and Daisy was just one woman among many – unsophisticated, poorly dressed and uneducated, without the trappings of make-up and jewellery. What she did have, and what 

I had first recognised in her when she was young, is womanly dignity. It’s an inner thing. It can’t be quantified and you can’t really learn it from a book. It’s something passed down through the generations. 

Maybe what I identified in Daisy and also in the many other Aboriginal women I met over the twelve years I taught in the NT was the result of a strong womanly bond of stories, beliefs and structures integrated with Christian faith.

Whatever it is and however it passes from one woman to another, I know that it influenced me strongly at a time when I needed to understand that it’s not what you know or where you come from that is important. 

Those women were comfortable in their skins, something I wasn’t. They became my role models. Daisy and the other Aboriginal women taught me that it’s only when we are able to recognise our own and another’s dignity that we are enabled to move into wholeness, being whatever “whole” God calls us to be. 

But I am diminished when I never hear the Sunday Scriptures preached from the perception and lived experience of a woman. I meet a hospital chaplain who, because she is a women, is not free to extend God’s forgiveness to a dying person who has just entrusted her with their sinfulness. 

In parish after parish it is women who enthusiastically and creatively prepare young mums and dads for the baptism of their precious baby, then feel the need to apologise for a baptism liturgy distinguished by speed and a celebrant whose zest has slid off into familiarity and tiredness.

Women need to trust their own peculiarly feminine experience of God and how they live out that relationship. 

So often I am aware of a reluctance in myself to speak out from a feminine viewpoint, even though my life as a Catholic woman has involved me in many different facets of Church life. 

It can take courage to leave the comfort zone of silence when we have walked so long in the shadow of an authoritarian male leadership structure. Catholic women grow up with a long list of “no-go” areas – restrictions, rules or long unchallenged traditions. Jesus made it clear in word and action that he considered women to be equal to men. We need to talk calmly and sometimes passionately, about the things in Church that disturb and challenge us.

Judith Lynch Judith Lynch is a writer who lives in Melbourne. More of her writing appears at tarellaspirituality.com

Disclaimer: CathBlog is an extension of CathNews story feedback. It is intended to promote discussion and debate among the subscribers to CathNews and the readers of the website. The opinions expressed in CathBlog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the members of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference or of Church Resources.

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