Edition 16: October 2004 Holy Spirit Province

Knowing self ... the starting point to all else

The Editor of ERNN, Brian Coyne, is one of the participants in the current 15-month Qavah spiritual journey sponsored by the Christian Brothers for people working in Edmund Rice Ministries. Here's a personal reflection and an overview of what's coming out of this stimulating endeavour...

ARVED INTO A LIMESTONE wall of the Arts Faculty at the University of Western Australia are those two words immortalised by the Greek philosopher, Socrates, "Know Thyself". In many ways they might also describe the philosophy at the root of the Qavah spirituality program being offered by the Christian Brothers to those many lay people now coming in to take up positions of employment and vocation in the many missions of the Edmund Rice Network. In order to teach other people, help them, or lift them up, it is probably a good idea to have a pretty good idea of who you are, and what you really believe, first.

The Qavah program seeks to take the individual through five related journeys over the course of about fifteen months. Some of this takes place in the three residential seminars where all participants from around the country come together in one place. Apart from the residentials though, participants also contract to work with a personal spiritual mentor or director on a one-on-one basis. They also develop their own reading and reflection program - and some assistance in this is provided by the Qavah formation team or the spiritual mentor if required.

The Adelaide Residential began with a moving welcoming ritual in which young men from CBC Wakefield Street came in holding jig-saw puzzle bits of this beautiful map of South Australia. They read to us welcome messages in the Pitjinjarra Aboriginal language which they are learning. As each welcomer finished his reading he laid his piece of the map on the floor. When the map was assembled, the participants then contributed symbols – like the wine, the seafood, the almonds, the wheat, the oranges and the Sturt Desert Peas (the Floral symbol of South Australia). These symbols were then used throughout the week in our liturgies and other moments of reflection.

The third important element outside the residentials is the participants are encouraged to get involved in some ministry of helping others at the margins outside of their normal vocational work. Some choose to work with the homeless, others with people with disabilities, others again with the aged. We're encouraged to undertake endeavours that do truly take us outside our normal "comfort zone".

All of these activities though are tied back into the five journeys or stories which are the focus of the residential programs: the Personal story; the Australian story; the Edmund story; the Universe story; and the Jesus story.

At the heart of Qavah though is the meaning of this Old Testament word which means "waiting on The Lord". This is why I chose the reference to Socrates as the opening to this article. To help others, we need to know ourselves, but to know ourselves we need to know our relationship with this great Mystery at the very heart of our lives and of all life which we try to condense into that deceptively simple three lettered word, G-O-D. To know God we need to learn patience and the art of listening.

Anne Davoli (St Paul's, Gilles Plains) and Br Peter Faulkner

To me, Qavah is ultimately about the business of learning to listen. This is what comes through in many of the sessions we have had, firstly at Marburg in Queensland in March and a few weeks ago at the second residential at The Monastery in Adelaide. As well as the formal presentations, and plenty of excellent socialising, each day has a period set aside for "Qavah time". It is time spent with self, developing patience and the art of listening for what God has to say to us in our lives and leisure and work.

I suspect it would be true to say for most participants that none of us really knew what we were letting ourselves in for when we enrolled. The brochures and website information we had read give some insight, much the same as I have tried to do here. In hindsight though I don't think the problem is any lack of communication skills on the part of anyone trying to explain what Qavah is. The answer to the question "What is Qavah?" is a bit like the answer to that deceptively simple question that the disciples put to Jesus so long ago: "Can you teach us to pray?" Qavah does not have a simple answer that can be condensed into one sentence, or even a brochure. Qavah is a process. It is a process of re-orienting self much as one might re-orient a portable radio to better pick up the signal from a distant broadcasting station.

In this case though one is not just turning self in some physical sense as you might turn the transistor radio on its axis - one is turning the whole self - physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. And we're not so much doing the re-orientation of self to pick up some crackly signal coming from a radio station far, far away. What we're trying to "pick up" here is not a broadcast. It is a narrowcast: what is God saying to little old me? And it is "the voice of God within" that we're better trying to hear. I know I'm finding this whole thing a very personal encounter with this Divine Mystery we address as God. I suspect my colleagues through all the different words they might use to summarise their experience that they are also.

Now that we're more than half-way through the program the feeling I pick up from my colleagues is that everyone is finding it hugely beneficial at a diverse number of levels.

The major elements in the Adelaide Residential

While all five "stories" are given time in each residential, in the Adelaide Residential the emphasis was on the exploration of the Christ story and the Universe story. Effectively two full days were given to this with presentations from Adelaide Theologian, Fr Dennis Edwards, and Christian Brother Ecologist, Br Peter Faulkner.

   Australian Story:   

Geraldine Hawkes, Chair of the Commission for Australian Catholic Women (pictured at left) shifted our focus leading a provocative discussion on the changing perceptions of women and men in their relationship to the Church and their faith. It was part a relating of her personal story of migration to Australia and finding her own self-perceptions of where she stood, and part the story of the work of the Commission for Australian Catholic Women as they endeavour to work through the issues in their brief from the Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference.

Mrs Hawkes also addressed the challenge of interfaith dialogue arguing that "genuine dialogue requires respect, acceptance and affirmation of those involved and preparedness to learn from one another's human experiences and to assist in the interpretation of those experiences."

   Jesus Story:   

Fr Dennis Edwards gave a series of Powerpoint assisted presentations on current bible scholarship and theological understanding of Jesus and his relationship to us. The titles of these presentations were:

"Jesus' Acts of Healing and Liberation"

In summary, Fr Edwards endeavoured to get the place of miracles and the healing acts of Jesus in a better nuanced perspective against contemporary understanding in the Western world. In his summing up he argued:

  • Healing miracles were a central part of Jesus' ministry (see Luke 7:22)
  • The gospels call them acts of power (dunameis) or works (erga) rather than miracles (thauma). In John they are called signs (semeia)
  • They can be understood in different ways: they can arouse faith; others see Jesus as curing by the power of Beelzebul (Mk 3:22-30)
  • Their meaning is understood in the light of faith and real relationship with Jesus (Mark 5:34)
  • Jesus rejects as evil the idea of authenticating and spectacular miracles (Lk 4:12, Mk 8:11-13)
  • They function as gospel - they show God's will to save enfleshed in Jesus of Nazareth
  • They express the healing and the Shalom associated with the coming of God's Reign
  • They are a sign that God's Reign is already present in Jesus' ministry
  • They function as promise of the fullness of the kingdom
  • They express God's desire to liberate men and women from suffering
  • For Jesus the experience of healing is an experience of the power and the presence of the eschatological Spirit (Lk 7:21-23; 11:20).

"Jesus Preaches the Reign of God in Parables"

In summary, Fr Edwards sought to unlock the manner in which Jesus used Parables as a communication device. In his summing up he argued:

  • Jesus is not simply communicating in parable about the Reign of God
  • Rather, hearers who are open to the parable are being led to experience the Reign of God in and through the parable. The parables mediate the experience of the Reign
  • There is an intrinsic link between the religious experience of Jesus and the parables in which that experience is expressed. Jesus, an artist in his use of parable, mediates what he experiences through his art

"The Death of Jesus"

In summary, Fr Edwards was exploring the action of God in the Cross:

  • Jesus is led by the Spirit in every aspect of his ministry and is radically open to the Spirit in his passion and death
  • While Jesus experiences abandonment (Mark 15:34), he is not abandoned by the one by the one he calls Abba, the one in whom he has put his trust
  • The Spirit of God is present as the power of love at work in the cross transforming the brutality and suffering into an event of redemptive love
  • Jesus in death is raised up in the power of this life-giving Spirit and then, identified with this Spirit, sends the Spirit upon the disciples (Rom 8:11

"The Significance of the Resurrection"

In summary, Fr Edwards was exploring the centrality of the Resurrection as confirmation of the words and deeds of Jesus:

  • The resurrection establishes that the crucified Jesus was right:
    • In preaching the kingdom
    • teaching total trust in God
    • his claim to authority
    • His identification with the poor
    • His assurance of forgiveness
    • His call to discipleship
  • All this is the revelation of God

He argued:

  • The resurrection of the crucified motivates the transition to the Gentile mission
  • A line of Jewish tradition connected the end time with universal salvation
  • The resurrection, inaugurating the end time, necessarily raises the question of the mission to the Gentiles
  • This was to be taken up particularly by Paul
   Universe Story:   

Br Peter Faulkner, who has a deep interest in EarthCare and Ecology led us on a passionate exploration of his own long history of involvement and study of the Catholic/Christian concern for our environment and sustainable use care of the resources God has provided to us. His presentation was followed by the fifth presentation by Fr Dennis Edwards entitled: "Jesus Christ and the Universe". Fr Edwards explored these following key questions:

  • What was Jesus' attitude to creation during his ministry?
  • How did the early church understand the meaning of Jesus Christ in relation to creation?
  • How can we think about Jesus Christ in relation to our contemporary understanding of the evolution of the universe and of life on Earth?
  • Does salvation in Christ involve the other creatures of creation?
   Edmund Story:   

Br Michael Dyer, leader of the Qavah presenter team, led us in a fascinating and all too brief exploration of how the outlook of Blessed Edmund Rice might be better intregrated into our own work. What perspectives does Edmund Rice offer that continue to have application in how we approach our life, and our work?


Edmund Rice Family News is edited and produced by Brian Coyne for the Holy Spirit Province of the Christian Brothers
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