In search of an archetypal theology with Fr Eugene Stockton...
Today we introduce a new and extended investigation to Catholica. The lead commentary today consists of three parts: a written introduction to this "extended investigation" by the editor and publisher of Catholica, Brian Coyne; a short video interview with archeologist and priest, Dr Eugene Stockton, whose work will be central to this investigation, and thirdly an invitation if you would like to join us here in the Blue Mountains later in the year for a social gathering and discussion in physical space where we can meet face-to-face and extend our conversation.
Part 1: An Overview
by Brian Coyne
While many of us who are attracted to Catholica are understandably critical of where the post-Vatican II church has ended up there remains a search for an alternative spiritual or theological vision. Over the coming months I hope one of the ways in which we might explore this is with the help of Dr Eugene Stockton. Eugene is what we might call an elder in the Catholic Church as a retired priest up here in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. His long time professional interest has been as an archeologist and a long fascination with the spirituality of the Aboriginal people who, for tens of thousands of years, have seen this place in the Blue Mountains where we now live as sacred ground. Fr Eugene himself grew up in this middle part of the Blue Mountains which was a meeting place for different Aboriginal nations. He has himself made a major contribution to the excavation and study of hundreds of sacred sites and gathering places here in the Mountains over the space of the last half century. We are in the course of filming a mini-documentary to promote interest in his latest book and an idea he is anxious to promote that through an understanding of the ways in which the indigenous peoples related to one another, and their land and environment, we might help rekindle Western spirituality. Even the conservative Church leaders like the late John Paul II and Pope Benedict lament the massive drop off in sacramental and liturgical participation in Europe and other Western countries like our own. Across the spectrum, people have been searching for ways in which to understand the massive move away from religious participation over the last century.
Some writers and commentators foresee that the present increase in inter-religious dialogue happening around the world may eventually lead to a great healing of the religious divisions that have long characterised human civilisation. The proposal Fr Eugene has to throw into the discussion in society fits very much within this thrust. He argues that while European and Western people gained much through education and rational thinking, we also lost something that the indigenous people retained in their spiritual relationship with their land and their relationship to the universe, the world and the people around them. As we all appreciate the cultures of the indigenous peoples were badly disrupted by the invasions of our European forebears and many indigenous people today are in deep distress and some of their communities in social breakdown as even recent media reports demonstrate.
What Fr Eugene invites us to do is look beyond these contemporary failings and crises and back to the proud and sophisticated cultures and spirituality that the Aboriginal people developed over tens of thousands of years and which enabled them to live in harmony with their environment and with their neighbours for tens of thousands of years in very sustainable ways. He argues we have much to learn from the ways in which the indigenous people related to one another and their land and environment.
As publisher of Catholica, I don't pretend to know what the future holds or what the ultimate answers might be to the various challenges facing Western humankind. I share a sense of bewilderment and at times anger at the way some in society want to take us back to the theologies, spiritual practices and politics that today many find wanting and have walked away from. My own sense is that we need "to move forward" in search of a fresh theological, spiritual, social and economic vision. A vision that sits comfortably with what we humanbeings are constantly discovering about ourselves and our world through the insights of modern medicine, science and scholarship in so many disciplines all of which, in some way, impact on those things we traditionally say reside in the realm of the spiritual and are not easily accessed through the rational without the aid of music, art, and all those communication techniques and channels that use symbol, metaphor, and mystical language to express our hopes and aspirations.
I am attracted to this work Fr Eugene Stockton has been engaged in as I see it as an important part of the mix of the many things we need to be thinking about as we seek to discern a refreshed spiritual landscape of the future that helps re-open those insights that we attribute to that Middle Eastern Aboriginal, Jesus Christ, to all.
In this first short interview with Fr Eugene, which is actually cut from the end of the interview I will bring you next week, we were discussing the insight of the late theologian, Karl Rahner, that the religious person of the future would be a mystic or nothing at all. Fr Eugene begins by giving insight into what he believes Rahner meant by that observation and we go on to discuss the implications of this for our spiritual nation.
recorded 2 July 2012
In the continuation of this conversation which we will publish next Thursday, Fr Eugene begins to provide some of his insights into Aboriginal spirituality and the different ways in which the indigenous people relate to one another, to their land, and to the spiritual forces they perceive shape their life.
Brian Coyne, 12 July 2012
What are your thoughts on this commentary?
©2012Eugene Stockton and Brian Coyne
I am often asked: "How did I come to be interested in writing a book on an Aboriginal language?" It really started almost 70 years ago when I took up bushwalking in the Blue Mountains, and a very special area there was the Burragorang Valley and its hinterland only about 15 km southwest of Katoomba. The Burragorang was first settled by non-Aborigines in the 1820s, almost primarily by ex-convicts. In more recent times (the 1990s) I began writing books about the history of the Blue Mountains including the Burragorang Valley. Two very important books (in 1994 and 1995) were "Life in the Burragorang" and "Place Names of the Blue Mountains and Burragorang Valley". During the two years of writing these two books I began to realise that in the 1800s another significant group also had formed a strong presence in the Burragorang, namely: descendants of the Gandanguurra people.