Since the last AJL the Victoria chapter has met twice.
We had a spirited gathering for a rich feast of short papers at our chapter meeting in November 2018. While it was certainly the quietest meeting of the year in terms of attendance, the level of energy and engagement in the room was very high indeed. I am incredibly proud that our meeting featured five of our chapter colleagues presenting a diversity of papers. This is a real sign of the vitality and diversity of our chapter. Each of the presenters tackled their subjects with passion, and this translated into a very engaging and rewarding afternoon.
D’Arcy Wood started the ball rolling with a deeply personal reflection on the St John’s Bible. To his great surprise, D’Arcy was given a complete set of the smaller edition of the St John’s Bible a little over four years ago, and he told of his consternation at realising the weight of the volumes combined with the distance from his car — this meant having three people help with carrying the set! The St John’s Bible forms an important part of D’Arcy’s daily round. He has been displaying a page per day of each volume for a couple of years, and the experience of coming to the book each day is an important part of his daily routine. He spoke of the difference between a printed and a hand-written page of text, pointing to the ways in which the calligraphy of the Bible draws the eye, and invites closer engagement.
D’Arcy shared some examples of illuminations and full-page artworks from two volumes in the set: Psalms, and Gospels and Acts. The use of full-page artworks helps to punctuate the structure of the books (for example, each section of Psalms includes a major illustration, and each concludes with a highly decorated Alleluia, Amen). The illuminations and full-page artworks open theological vistas, of which an example D’Arcy shared was the image of the crucifixion. Here the cross is a vibrant explosion of gold, disclosing and amplifying the glory of the cross. To my eyes it comes close to images we might associate with the Johanine crucifixion, which in the Eastern tradition takes place against a radiant background of gold. Here there is a sense of glory breaking through: the cross is the intersection of heaven and earth.
Sharon Boyd took us to Japan to contemplate a unique image of Mary. The focus of Sharon’s paper was the surviving portion of a statue of Mary from the Urakami Catholic Cathedral, which stood 500 metres from where the atomic bomb landed in Nagasaki on 9 August 1945. A young soldier — who had entered a Cistercian community prior to being called up for military service — found himself sifting through the rubble of the cathedral in the weeks following the bombing, seeking a keepsake to take back to the monastery. The soldier/monk had visited the cathedral prior to going into the monastery, and in sifting through the rubble he found himself guided to the surviving fragment of the statue that had stood in the centre of the reredos of the high altar.
Now the statue lives in a dedicated chapel in the rebuilt cathedral, and serves as a focus for annual commemorative events at the nearby Peace Park. Sharon’s paper also detailed some of the wider journeys the statue has made in the last few years, including a pilgrimage to Guernica, another city destroyed by bombing during the Spanish Civil War. Here, too, lives a fragmented Marian statue, another symbol of the persistence of the sacred through destruction.
Fiona Dyball gave the first of a pair of music-related papers, speaking about the relationship between Catholic identity and the music for liturgical celebrations in schools. This was a highly enjoyable paper, with a lovely immediacy through the inclusion of many personal stories of Fiona’s experiences of making music with young people.
This was a powerful reflection on how music shapes spiritual formation, and how it feeds liturgical knowledge and literacy. For those of us who are unfamiliar with the Catholic education system, Fiona’s presentation helped to highlight some of the differences of approach between schools operated by religious orders and schools in the broader diocesan network. Principles of planning, consultation, repertoire acquisition, rehearsal, and institutional attitudes gave a strong and motivating conclusion to Fiona’s presentation.
The second of the music papers was a fine presentation by Fay Magee on relationships between congregational singing, neuroscience, and embodied theology. The foundation of Fay’s paper was Daniel Levitin’s This Is Your Brain On Music. This important book helps us to understand some of the ways music is ‘hardwired’ into our cognition, and the ways in which that hardwiring forms taste and preference. (I pondered this on my journey home, as I noticed a number of CBD buildings playing Beethoven symphonies in their public spaces as a way to discourage loitering!)
Fay’s presentation highlighted the multilayered and highly variant ways music operates when people sing together. Drawing on her conversation with Charles Sherlock (Fay collaborated in the writing of the music chapter in Charles’ Performing The Gospel), Fay spoke about the significance of music as an instance of gospel performance in worship.
It was a very great pleasure to welcome Adam Couchman as the final presenter for the day. This is an important paper, because Adam was awarded the Harold F. Leatherland Prize, which is offered through the University of Divinity in partnership with AAL Victoria.
Adam’s paper, Performing the Theodrama: a Theocentric Vision of Christian Worship, takes its starting point in the observation that Jesus himself engaged in worship. Adam spoke of how this question shaped his enquiry, which forms the focus of his doctoral research-in-progress, and of the ways it calls for a re-clarification of how we understand classical Chalcedonian doctrine. Drawing on the work of Adrienne von Speyr in conversation with James Torrance and Kevin Vanhoozer Adam offered a very stimulating exploration of what it is for worship to be at the heart of the Trinity. Through discussion of questions around the relationship between prayer and worship, and how doctrine is enacted through liturgical action, Adam offered us a definition of worship as a theocentric drama that unfolds the inner life of the Trinity in the daily prayer and worship of the Church: ‘Christian worship is an ongoing, theodramatic performance of the eternal glorification of God that is already taking place within the Trinity. It is made possible through the High Priesthood of Christ and effective to us by the presence of the Holy Spirit. It is centred upon the worship of Jesus Christ as revealed in the canon of Scripture and yet the theodrama is extended into new contexts every day through faithful improvisation.’
The chapter gathered for a reflection on the AAL National Conference in March 2019. A good number of our chapter members made the journey to Fremantle for the AAL National Conference, including a number of people presenting papers. Reflections were shared by Sharon Boyd, Donrita Reefman, Fiona Dyball, Tony Doran, and Jo Dirks.
The St John’s Bible (SJB) was a significant presence at the conference, and this came through in reflections from Sharon and Donrita. Sharon spoke of her engagement with the SJB during her studies in America, and how the conference provided an occasion for reconnecting to the union of image and word. The use of the SJB during the opening liturgy of the conference was one of the highlights of the conference, seeing the SJB carried in procession and laid on the display stand for reading during the liturgy. Donrita spoke about how the SJB prompted her to think more deeply about the sacramentality of the Word, of imagining Christ in a more broadly eucharistic way.
Given the long distance travel involved in going to Fremantle, some people were able to extend their stay and visit beyond Perth. Jo Dirks was inspired by the session on the refurbishment of Geraldton Cathedral to travel to see the building, a kind of pilgrimage. He spoke of his impressions on seeing the building in its setting: the way the forecourt brings you into contact with the cathedral before entering the door, a sunken garden, and the vibrant colours of the interior with the striping in scarlet and grey stone colours, reminiscent of the experience of buildings like the cathedral in Cordoba, Spain. Jo’s response was ‘gobsmacked’ at the rich intensity of the building and its setting.
Fiona Dyball reflected about the contribution of Aunty Netta Knapp, a Noongar elder from Goreng tribe south of Perth. Aunty Netta teaches art and culture at University of Notre Dame Australia (UNDA), and leads cultural awareness workshops. Fiona spoke of how Aunty Netta’s presence was an opportunity for grace and dialogue for many conference delegates, and how her willingness to explore questions with people created freedom to enter into deeper discussions. Aunty Netta’s murals and artwork on the campus at UNDA are an important witness to the transformative nature of art and art-making.
Jarrod MacKenna’s keynote prompted a lot of response from people who came to the conference. Sharon spoke about how the address was still challenging her to unpack the message about how liturgical practice perpetuates colonial worldviews and marginalises indigenous voices and traditions. Jarrod MacKenna’s address provoked wider discussion about cultural diversity in liturgy, in response to the recent launch of Songs of Grace, the supplement to Together in Song. Tony Way raised a question about the use of hymns in languages other than English, and how and to what extent multiculturalism can be acknowledged and celebrated with integrity in liturgy. How are we transformed? How do we respond to social context and social justice so that the gesture is amplified? A similar question came with Tony Doran reflecting on his parish media team using an aboriginal image of the Holy Family as a thematic slide for the Sunday after Christmas. The lack of contact with local artists, and the abstraction of art from the makers, creates disconnection in the liturgical use of the image.
The discussion led on to some consideration of how Victoria will go about hosting the 2021 AAL National Conference. Work is under way, and I expect there will be news to share in the next AJL.
Comings and Goings around AAL Vic
It’s been a busy few months for our members in Victoria, with much to celebrate!
Garry Worete Deverell’s latest book, Gondwana Theology: A Trawloolway man reflects on Christian Faith, was launched in November. The book includes a focus on Garry’s proposals towards a distinctive Australian liturgical language, which is embodied in Gondwana Theology through a text for a Eucharistic rite.
Philip Newman celebrated fifty years of priestly ministry in December. This was marked with a large and joyful celebration with Archbishop Philip Freier at St John’s, Toorak. Congratulations, Philip, ad multos annos!
Robert Gribben and Charles Sherlock, two of our highly esteemed chapter colleagues, received the OAM in the Australia Day honours. Congratulations! Just when we thought Charles had scaled the heights of the honours list, he delighted everyone by coming runner-up on the ABC Hard Quiz.
One of the great gifts of the growth of the chapter over the last couple of years is the need for a larger meeting space. The chapter has been lovingly hosted by the St Francis Pastoral Centre for the last few years, and I want to thank the Community of the Blessed Sacrament for their care of the chapter in this way. We are very glad to have found a partnership with the Australian Catholic University Centre for Liturgy, which began hosting our meetings in 2019. Thanks to Clare Johnson and Sharon Boyd for fostering the connection, and I hope we can look forward to a joyful association.