I’m an ordinary sort of person and that’s how I find God; disguised in the ordinary of my life. That’s my vocation too – helping others to recognise God in their ordinary, writes Judith Scully.
BY Judith Scully
At some point in my early teens, just when I was discovering there was more to the opposite sex than beneath-my-notice little brothers, I fell in love with God. Which is why, aged 16, wearing a fetching little hat and my first pair of high heels, I left my weeping parents and chuffed off to be a nun.
While the rest of my class prepared to be nurses, teachers or secretaries, I was one of the chosen ones! In the terminology of the day, I had a vocation. Nobody questioned it, least of all me. In the family photo album there is a shot of my mother and me taken the day of my first vows. There I am, all flowing black and white, my 18-year-old face encircled by a stiff coif, and there’s my mum in a smart, tight-fitting suit, spike heels and red nails.
That picture captures something of what I understand about vocation. It’s a trust in something way bigger than the imagination can capture. In its first heady romantic moments it makes light of the cost. That’s why my mother’s spike heels and red nails didn’t stand a chance against God. Vocation is not about the what, but the Who.
My God-dream carried me through teacher-training and 12 years on Aboriginal settlements. I survived sand fly bites, the heat and living in communities of three or four women. I loved outback teaching and something about the wide open spaces of the Northern Territory touched a place in me that I didn’t yet know was there. But by my early 30s, I knew it was time to take me and my vocation somewhere else.
A Michael Leunig cartoon says, “You can’t lose the plot; it’s stuck to you!” So is vocation – God’s plot, if you like. I thought I’d left my vocation along with my neatly-folded habit. What really happened was that it took a back seat while I earned a living teaching grade fours, learnt to drive and discovered the joys of shopping.
God waited for me to catch up. Years of formal morning meditations hadn’t exactly honed my love of Scripture. A semester of Scripture studies did. I realised that I loved teaching and now I loved Scripture too. So I combined the two in a Good Samaritan venture called the Motor Mission, taking the Gospel and sacramental preparation into Government schools and after-school classes, as well as writing for “Let’s Go Together”, a diocesan religious education program. God had a finger on my creative bent and I found that exciting. As Jeremiah said, “You have seduced me Lord…” (Jeremiah 20:7).
In my spare time I met Terry. Marriage followed but the longed-for babies didn’t. We placed it in God’s hands, and God answered with the gentle suggestion that maybe we could look outside the square. We did, and one unforgettable weekend, three shy children, siblings, in need of permanent care, came to enrich our lives and leave my ‘anything-for-a-quiet-life’ husband wondering what marrying me had got him into.
Within a couple of years they were joined by first, one baby girl, who died in early infancy, then another, both of them gifted to us by brave young women who knew they were unable to care for their child. Now, many years on, their children call me Nana.
I knew that being a wife, a teacher, a mother, was vocation in itself, but Vatican II had blossomed into a multitude of possibilities for women and men who meant it when they called themselves Church. So I waited and listened and worked behind a counter. Before his increasing weakness was eventually diagnosed as MND (Motor Neuron Disease), my husband had followed his dream and bought a country store. It wasn’t my dream, but teaching catechetics in that small tourist town eventually led to my 17 years as a parish pastoral associate (PA).
Once the parish recovered from the shock that I was Mrs, not Sister, I settled in as a PA, leading Gospel discussion groups, writing inclusive liturgies, co-ordinating the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) and having fun with “Ripples”, a family based religious education program. The opportunity to participate in a two-year program called “Siloam”, culminated in my accreditation as a spiritual director. My seductive God was at work again and Sophia Circle, for women who wanted to explore their spirituality, resulted.
Terry had died, the children had left home, and suddenly it was time to retire. In an inspired gesture, my youngest brother offered to build me a website as a combined birthday-retirement present. And so Tarella Spirituality was born. Now writer is added to my biographical details.
I’m an ordinary sort of person and that’s how I find God; disguised in the ordinary of my life. That’s my vocation too – helping others to recognise God in their ordinary. It means deep inner listening, lots of waiting, being silent enough to hear God gently whispering invitations and challenges, learning to take risks even when your loved ones don’t understand. And it will never make me rich.
And so my love affair with God goes on. Next… ?
Vocations Awareness Week is celebrated in the Catholic Church in Australia from August 4-10.