Sr Ann-Maree O'Beirne rsm...
The publishers of Catholica have established a close working relationship with Fr Eugene Stockton, a now retired archaeologist priest here in the Blue Mountains. Recently a glowing tribute to Fr Stockton's life work was published in the Australasian Catholic Record by Mercy Sister, Ann-Marie O'Beirne. It is our pleasure today to republish this tribute with permission. Sr Byrne's commentary provides insight into how Fr Stockton's work as an archaeologist has helped form his theological understanding and the lessons he believes we can all learn from indigenous spirituality. Catholica readers might value this as an essay not only providing insight into indigenous spirituality but also our own Judeo-Christian spiritual heritage.
Eugene Stockton: A Life's Work: A Gift to the Nation
by Ann-Maree O'Beirne rsm
The dualism characteristic of ordinary consciousness...
There are several theologians and writers of spirituality in Australia who have been alerted to some movement of the Spirit in this land Australia, and have sought the source of this stirring. Looking at why this development is happening, these Australian writers have been conscious of a growing awareness of the beautiful country we live in, and a particular spirit that seems to emanate from the land and its many features. This awareness is touching something within and a search begins.
One person, Eugene Stockton, stands out as being prolific in this task of reflecting theologically on the phenomenon of a quiet, growing awareness of the wealth of gift that Aboriginal spirituality has for all Australians. He has drawn on the writings of many scholars and has contributed significantly to this awareness and to a developing theology of land here in Australia. Stockton's work in this area spans more than forty years and demonstrates a journey of increasing awareness of the significance of the value, the gift, of the deep spirituality of the original inhabitants in this land, Australia-a journey beginning in archaeology; taking a turn through social welfare, religion and culture; and coming to a resting place in the heart of a mystic. A life's work, spanning from the early 1970s to now—truly a gift to this nation.
Eugene Stockton, Catholic priest, Scripture scholar and author, has been inspired by Aboriginal Australians' spirituality, culture and way of life. His writing draws on his own Catholic biblical and sacramental foundations combined with his experience of Aboriginal culture, spirituality and religion in his pastoral ministry amongst the Aboriginal people. He also brings to his reflection a passion for and considerable experience in archaeology and a deep desire to honour an ancient tradition in this ancient land. Stockton's reflections build a bridge between this ancient people and contemporary Australia's eclectic mix of cultures from all over the world—a bridge between a western Catholic Christianity and an ancient Aboriginal culture that is being created ever anew. He is keenly aware, in his more recent writings, of the fact that his perspective is white, and it is Catholic. This said, he does seem to be able to articulate for non-Aboriginal people, and maybe more so, for those of a Catholic background, a connection to an ancient spirituality that speaks to a deep inner yearning for something more in this time and place.
Stockton speaks of the image of 'grafting', using the root stock of a tree as an analogy for Aboriginal people, experience and tradition. Over the past sixty to seventy thousand years this tree has been growing in this land and providing sustenance and succour to all who inhabit the land. For the Aboriginal people this 'all' extends to all living and non-living entities. Stockton speaks of the newcomers to this land being grafted onto the trunk and thus sharing in all of its history, and all of its future, drawing from the taproot of Aboriginal existence that goes deep into the soil. This kind of connectedness to land is something that all Australians are drawn to in one way or another if they are to find a home in this land. Stockton says that 'there is now an intense search for new identity which is echoed in religious circles by a search for an Australian theology and spirituality'. He sees that the land is not just a physical unifying symbol in this multicultural country but it is being viewed 'more and more as a spiritual unifier'. This spiritual connectedness is grounded in the context of the ancient culture and spirituality of the Aboriginal people of this land-now a dispossessed people—and the fragmentation of the broken lives of those who have come to this land in the last two hundred and thirty-five years.
Stockton's writings in this area began after several years of ministry with suburban Aboriginal people. His early writings highlighted the social justice issues that affected them. This work was crucial in his developing an understanding of and appreciation for the truth of the Aboriginal story and experience and gives important underpinnings to understanding Aboriginal spirituality and its theology of land.
Early Writing: Social and Cultural Context of the Time
Stockton prepared a report for the archdiocesan authorities in Sydney in November 1971. Entitled 'Domestic Situation of Aborigines in Sydney', and published as a series of articles in Tjurunga in 1972 and 1973, it describes anthropologically the situation of Aborigines in Sydney at that time. Stockton discusses aspects of urban domestic Aboriginal life, including the values that were either helping or hindering it in relation to various issues, such as social, financial, housing, family, and health issues; in particular, he discusses the influence of hotels. The report concludes with guidelines for 'white helpers'. It is a beginning to a developing understanding of the situation. It is written, obviously, from a white, western perspective but does attempt to see life through the eyes of the Aboriginal people. This report was followed by another article by Stockton in 1982, entitled 'Black and White: A Conflict of Economic Perspectives in Australia'. This article also takes an anthropological approach, building on the 1971 report, to develop a deeper understanding of the Aborigine and the differences that exist, even beyond culture, between Aboriginal Australians and other Australians. Stockton identifies a factor that underlies this difference; he names it the 'economic perspective'.
I am suggesting that what Australian-born whites share with migrants, both European and non-European, but do not share with Aborigines, is something which is more basic than culture and can be seen as a major determinant of culture ... This signifies a total outlook, a world view or all-inclusive conceptual framework, which an individual adopts towards his environment in terms of how that environment supplies his needs and wants.
The article goes on to explore three economic components-'subsistence activities', 'liberal activities' and 'storage strategies'-within the context of the two predominant economies, one of the Aboriginal people and one of the west. Stockton names these two economies 'The Hunter-Gatherer Economy' and 'The Economic Evolution of the West'. Aboriginal people come from the hunter-gatherer economy, where subsistence activities and liberal activities are predominant. There is not much capacity in the hunter-gatherer economy for storage strategies and this is something that continues to characterise the way Aboriginal people tend to organise their lives today. When this economy meets the western economy, where storage strategies are most important, there seems to be a mismatch. In ancient Aboriginal society there was an evolution of technologies—not, it seems, for purposes of improving productivity, but more to the end of 'providing more time for the really self-enriching activities'. Over time this focus on the social aspects of life helped to build into the culture the deep values of relationship, communication, hospitality, and just spending time with others, values that still exist today in urban life, values that sometimes militate against a breakthrough from perduring poverty to self-determination.
Stockton suggests, from his archaeological findings in camp fire sites, that the changes in stone technologies related more to this shift in liberal activities than to a shift in improved economy of tools. Though Aboriginal people had the means to progress technologically, they continued to make choices for these more liberal activities: 'they chose instead a spiritual development which successfully found survival in becoming attuned to their environment'. Stockton proposes that 'the economic outlook of the modern, urbanised, part-blood Aboriginal (and even more that of his tribal or reserve-dwelling kin) is still that of the hunter-gatherer, but in a changed environment'.
He feels no compunction in 'culling what is readily available' in a modern welfare state, but he is not drawn to contributing to the productivity of that state, to hedging his future by normal storage strategies or to responding to the forms of economic motivation which prevail among whites. But the picture is not simply one of a 'happy savage in the city'. The media have increased his expectations of the quality of life, particularly of material goods, expectations which most often lead to frustration or debt. His self-image is confused, because while following a course which seems natural to him (and nothing in 200 years has happened to change his economic goals), he is aware that the dominant culture attaches a stigma to his role.
The economic conflict between the two cultures as discussed by Stockton in this article goes a long way to developing an understanding of this ancient people, lost in time, it would seem, with not enough recent history to catch up to an ever more rapidly changing multicultural society. Stockton suggests that to expect radical change in such a short space of time, in anthropological terms, is wellnigh impossible, but it is beginning to be possible to 'find a place for difference in general society'.
These two early works, along with his writings in archaeology journals, serve as a backdrop to his following work on Aboriginal spirituality and its understanding of land and ultimately the sacramentality of land in this Australian context.
An Understanding of Aboriginal Spirituality's Theology of Land
Stockton's work took a change in focus with the 1986 CCJP Occasional Paper entitled 'This Land, Our Mother'. In this paper Stockton explores 'what land means to Aborigines and how their view of the land stands to enrich the nation as a whole beyond the purely economic worth of the land in question'. This paper draws on the material in the 1982 article by developing the economic contrast of the 'European view of land' with that of the Aboriginal view of land. And the contrast between them is quite stark. Stockton outlines the European view of land as essentially serving economic productivity. Since 1788 newcomers to the land have ploughed, planted, irrigated, harvested, stocked, and mined the land to the point of quite significant degradation of soil and resources. 'More visibly there are related problems in erosion, loss of tree cover, increasing salinity etc.' In this article Stockton raises the issue of an ethic for living on this land that includes a more local rather than a global use of the land and its resources. He writes of communities in the Middle East where there is a greater focus on the local production and marketing of goods, lessening the burden on the land. In terms of what we now understand as climate-significant practices, the supporting of local people in a micro-economy is a much more responsible approach. In this article Stockton then presents the Aboriginal economic perspective as that of hunter-gatherers, culling what is readily available in the immediate environment. He states:
They were limited by lack of storage capability to providing basically the needs of today. Subsistence activity occupied two to four hours a day, liberal activity (art, talk, religion, etc) took up the rest and was highly prized. The limit on subsistence activity also protected the environment from over-exploitation and from exhaustion of single resources (therefore imbalance).
The other significant factor that Stockton presents in his work is the delving deep into the culture of Aboriginal people to gain understanding about their continuity of values and spirituality. He sees his work in archaeology as enlightening, particularly as he has a Middle Eastern comparison. That is, here in Australia archaeological findings can make direct ancestral links between present-day people and those who lived 40,000 plus years ago; this is quite unique. The 'persistence of Aboriginal culture' is something not found in Europe, Africa or the Americas. His claim that modern humankind was in Australia long before any of these other nations is quite remarkable. Stockton concedes that 'what archaeological records cannot show, but can only be surmised from current ethnography, is that the long partnership between a land and its people had nurtured a spiritual attuneness of one to the other to the point of becoming one'.
It is here that Stockton begins his journey into exploring Aboriginal spirituality, using the work of anthropologist W. E. H. Stanner and theories of science about the self-supporting, self-sustaining, self-regulating nature of the whole biosphere. Making these connections through trying to understand Aboriginal Australians' struggle for land rights, slowly but surely helps his readers make the connections between spirituality and culture, between Aborigine and land. Stockton explains:
The western mind naturally and instinctively sees land as an entity separate to the land he walks on, superior to it in being an animate, sentient, intelligent and self-conscious person, and from there goes on to explore his links with the land. 'Identifying with the land' therefore becomes a metaphor for affection and emotional solidarity with the land, the only way two distinct concrete realities can be said to be identified.
The Aboriginal is speaking of real identity. He says simply and without qualification: 'I am the land'... For the Aboriginal, the land, together with its people, flora and fauna, and everything else it contains is a corporate organic whole, at least as animate, sentient, intelligent and self-conscious as any of its organic parts.
This total connectedness to land is born of Aboriginals' belief in kinship. Kinship is not simply relationship with family through a blood line, though this is part of their understanding. Rather kinship is derived from the land itself. The land, as Mother to all of creation, gives the Aborigine familial relationship that goes deeper than human family; it gives relationship to all living things. 'The land is his mother common to all other living beings, who are real brothers and sisters to him.' But there is an even deeper, closer relationship within this understanding of kinship, which is through 'common totemic ancestry from a Dreamtime hero'. This is best described by the National Aboriginal Conference.
The understanding of kinship is tied to the Aboriginal belief of 'spirit-children'. Stockton highlights that this 'belief of spirit-children pre-existing in the land-mother does not conflict with Christian belief or scientific thought'. It instead closely correlates with the Christian notion of each individual having a soul that is separate from, yet united with, the physical body. Stockton suggests this Aboriginal belief of spirit-children is 'a mythical expression of an important insight'.
Consequently, for Aboriginal people, knowing their totem gives them connectedness to land, to a specific piece of land, and without this knowledge or ability to be in this land the Aboriginal person is in a sense cut off from their soul. But when connected to and able to be in their land the Aboriginal person is at home. 'The land is a sacrament, channelling the spiritual and conveying a message to those who are open to it.' Patrick Dodson, as quoted by Stockton, says that: 'For the Aboriginal people ... land is the generation point of existence, the maintenance of existence, the spirit from which Aboriginal existence comes'.
The whole notion of the Dreaming, which Stockton has identified as a misinterpretation of an Arrernte phrase, is key to understanding Aboriginal spirituality's theology of land.
The word Dreamtime, or, better, Dreaming, had a different origin. Spencer and Gillen rendered the Arrernte words altjiranga ngambakala as 'dreaming' on the supposition that altjira rama means 'to dream'. T.G.H. Strehlow, who grew up among the Arrernte (Aranda) people of central Australia, noted that the root altjira means 'eternal' (so that the verb 'to dream' draws from the idea of seeing eternal things, i.e. during sleep), and the noun should have been translated as 'originating from eternity'. However, the word 'Dreaming' acquired wide currency in Aboriginal English anthropological literature and now popular usage to cover a package of ideas common throughout Aboriginal Australia. It should be noted that many Aborigines in many tribal areas actually prefer the term 'the Law' to express this complex of concepts.
Totemic ancestry is reliant on the Dreaming ancestors' creating all of creation across the land and on the individual Aboriginal and other creatures and objects being connected to a particular place through the actions of the Dreaming ancestors. But if we were to understand the Dreaming as an historical event then we would be missing the key points of Aboriginal spirituality. The Dreaming is a past and present happening, not unlike our understanding of the Eucharist, a memorial of the salvation of the world, here, now, and forevermore. Stockton quotes Stanner: 'One cannot "fix" The Dreaming in time: it was, and is, everywhen ...' According to Stanner, as quoted by Stockton, for Aboriginal people 'the Dreaming is many things in one. Among them, a kind of narrative of things that once happened; a kind of charter of things that still happen: and a kind of logos or principle of order transcending everything significant for Aboriginal man'. The Dreaming is how the universe was created, is created and continues to be created. With this understanding and especially the connectedness to land that Aboriginal people experience, we get a glimpse of what this spirituality's theology of land is about. It is sacramental.
Stockton ends this important article by bringing us back to the present and moving into the future. The present reality is a multicultural Australia made up of people from many foreign lands: foreigners in this land. He poses the similarities between Christianity's heritage of land through the Jewish people, and our shared sacred texts. This brief journey into Hebrew and Christian Scripture is a vital part of Stockton's theological reflection on this subject, and is developed much more deeply in later works, particularly his book Land Marks. For Jews and for Christians connectedness to land is pivotal in our identity.
Aboriginal spirituality can lead us to a richer understanding of the Triune God. If land is seen as the sacrament of God our Father/Mother and Jesus is taken to be (as some Aboriginal Christians say) the great Dreamtime figure subsuming all others, another analogy for the Trinity can be found in the Land, Man and Song. The Land, stretching back to a timeless past, the principle of all else and 'the ground of our being' sustaining all, is the great parent, but expressing more the feminine traits of mother than other theological analogies allow. Man, the ultimate Dreamtime ancestor, susceptible to different forms both human and non-human, the one to whose likeness all men are formed ('in him, through him and for him all things were created'), is distinct in person but one with the Land. With the Land he is timeless, but he has been drawn into time. The equally timeless Song of the Land-conjoint-with-Man, but breathed forth in time for us by Man, pervades the universe as a wind, renewing life and inspiration, drawing together all who hear the dance of life.
Exploration of this connectedness to land begins what seems to be a new thread for Stockton.
In my own country, face to face with the land I find there the woman to be loved. Of course man may misuse the woman, a rape of the land is a loveless act of mutual hostility-man against nature and nature against the man-as he forces her to give of her own for his superfluous aggrandisement. Then the song of the land at the merciless hand of man is the scream of drill and saw, the cry of dynamite and the groan of the bulldozer. But a man may carefully tend the land, to the reasonable enrichment of both in loving alliance. His eyes delight in the womanly curves of the landscape, the sinuous grace of gums, clear pools, cliffs of statuesque grandeur. He responds to the sensuous touch of rock and sand, limbs of trees and furry mosses, the movement of warm air or cool water over his body. Smell and sound likewise arouse his feeling for the land as he surveys broad expanses or explores deep recesses. He is alive to her myriad moods and changing seasons. His emotions meet and match airs of pain and sadness, or of joy and exhilaration in nature, by a kind of cosmic compassion. Then the song of the earth which breaks from his lips is one of loving communion.
But this woman is also a mother, with whom I am one and in whom I have come to be, am formed and nurtured. If I was born in this land, by Aboriginal understanding I have pre-existed her like them from the timeless Dreaming. So, on their own reckoning, I have a common bond with Aborigines and common spiritual roots in this continent, despite my racial roots elsewhere from my parents.
Stockton believes this land can be a 'unifying focus' for the many peoples who have gathered on this land. His future is a dream of a new world, united and grounded in the land, a nation gathered from the rest of the world, united on this land as a beacon to all.
Aboriginal Spirituality of Land and Sacramental Theology (Sacramentality)
This pivotal piece of writing was followed by the pope's visit to Australia in 1986, which was in itself a catalyst for renewal for many Aboriginal people and an awakening to something new for many non-Aboriginal Australians. Stockton wrote a report on the lead-up to the visit, the visit itself, and the words spoken by John Paul II so earnestly on that occasion. The pope spoke strongly for, and gave recognition to, Aboriginal spirituality as being of God.'
In 1990 Stockton drew together much of his knowledge and reflections to date in another important article entitled 'Sacred Story, Sacred Land'. This article begins with his identity as a Catholic Christian in an Australian landscape, with a foreground of a multicultural, multifaith society where so many are losing sight of their religious heritage and there seems to be a swing to an inward-looking spirituality. Stockton believes that 'the balance needs to be redressed by strongly re-affirming our link with our forebears (sense of sacred story) and with our setting (sense of sacred land)'. He says that without these links 'any talk of Australian spirituality is superficial or delusory'.
And so he tracks through a brief philosophical introduction about person, God and spirituality into an expose of the Christian story via Jewish and Christian Scripture, and then contextualises this in the Australian story. This is our sacred story. It is here for the first time that Stockton writes of the notion of grafting. We as Christians are grafted onto the Jewish story, and the historical Jesus story. But as Australians we are also grafted onto the Aboriginal story, by the very fact of our presence on this land. This image of grafting is one that Stockton uses throughout the rest of his writing as a way of connecting disparate races and cultures in this land. The image is a biblical image and he uses it well. Sacred land is presented from biblical perspectives and connected to the Australian context of the rootlessness of so many. Stockton states that, without a sense of land, newcomers to this land will not feel connected and will remain without roots in this land.
He then makes a summary of Aboriginal religious culture that captures in a small way a glimpse of the richness of this culture, this religion. He outlines fourteen areas that he admits are a list of items separated out of a coherent whole, but they give some indication of the complexity of life and religion for the Aboriginal people. The last in the list, Dadirri, becomes the next pivotal point for Stockton in his developing thought and theological reflection. Dadirri amounts to a 'New Asceticism' of gentleness, patience, simplicity and compassion that Stockton believes can be the basis for the 'New Dreaming'. It takes him on a personal journey into mystical union, loving communion.
Stockton quotes Deacon Boniface Perdjert as once voicing 'the convictions of many Aboriginal Christians that Jesus is the great Dreaming hero, subsuming all the others from the mythical past'. He sees this in line with John's gospel theology and the theology of Colossians and Ephesians.
Jesus, fulfilling the role of Wisdom in the Old Testament, was in the mind of God as the agent of creation, the one through whom all things were made. The same Christology envisions the New Man (Col. 1:15-20; Eph. 1:15-23; 2:14-16). The church is set to grow to cosmic proportions, encompassing both land and humankind, renewed and made one in the Body, of which Jesus is the Head.
This kind of thinking leads Stockton to his 'New Dreaming', a dreaming that envisages Jesus comes to us in this land, in our setting of land and story, as one who draws together all previous strands of revelation that intertwine in this land, and recreates both humanity and land into his Body.
The 1990s saw a cohesion in Stockton's writing captured in two books: the first, Land Marks: A Spiritual Search in a Southern Land (1990), followed by The Aboriginal Gift: Spirituality for a Nation (1995). In Land Marks Stockton treats ten symbols of Australian culture using a method of theological reflection, giving the Australian setting, the biblical context, broader contexts and faith and social understandings some in-depth attention. Throughout this journey Stockton brings together his Christian faith, biblical and theological knowledge, and his solid grounding in Aboriginal spirituality to explore what it means to be spiritual, what it means to be Christian in this land. Stockton situates himself and his story in the land, and the land in God.
This land I have learned from its earliest inhabitants is my mother, in whom I am formed and by whom I am nurtured. She makes a home for me. She is 'the ground of my being'. She is the sacrament, an effective sign, of my parent God in a more feminine mode. I am drawn to care for her and to respond to her many and varied moods as child to mother. I am alert to learn her secrets, her lessons of life. I let her take me to the Father.
Stockton speaks of the land being the mediator of God's revelation to him; more than words, and before words, this revelation is made and received; land is symbol; symbols are more adept at capturing the essence of what is being revealed and deepening the experience. 'Spiralling symbols interact and interrelate in an expanding web of revelation. With symbols I celebrate the revelation of life; in stories I play with them.' An individual's story or experience of God is unique. No two stories are the same and each is sacrament-an individual's sacred story of God's personal revelation of God's self. This book is imbued with symbolic imagery, learned from immersion in Aboriginal spirituality, and serves as a wonderful tool in the' search for an Australian spirituality.
Before moving to a consideration of Stockton's 1995 book The Aboriginal Gift, we will look at Stockton's continuing synthesis of his work in other articles in the early 1990s, in the context of the environment. 'Voice in the Desert: Aboriginal Influence on Australian Spirituality' was his response to a call from the church at the time for Christians, including Catholics, to care for the earth. It is here that Stockton again refers to what he terms a contemporary asceticism marked by the traits of gentleness, patience, simplicity and compassion-traits he derived from Dadirri, from Aboriginal spirituality. He sees that 'it would express itself in care for people, and for the whole of creation. As a religious ideal it would ultimately be directed to and motivated by care of God, reciprocating and imitating God's care for us'. He saw a correlation in this search with the pope's words in 1986:
Look, dear people of Australia,
This was surely invitation, if invitation was needed, to find Jesus fleshed out for us in our land.
Stockton sensed that 'if this land is to speak to us in our spiritual search we have to listen more attentively to the voice of this land in its original inhabitants'. He then drew on his earlier paper, 'Sacred Story, Sacred Land', and explored again the fourteen elements of Aboriginal traditional religion that capture the values and ideas at the core of their religion.
In another paper, 'The Way of a Bush Theologian' (1992), Stockton reflects on the process he used in writing Land Marks, a process of inculturation that lends itself to a developing theological process. Here he emphasises the importance of symbols and images. Again he tracks through our biblical heritage, giving credence to the process of revelation that was present then and now, looking for a way to discover Jesus in our land, in our culture, in our story. Stockton then moves through an explanation of the language and logic of imagery and then explains the theological method he used in writing Land Marks. This process involved identifying imagery and symbols in the Australian experience, then reflecting on these images, symbols and experiences in light of the biblical texts and the Christian story. He followed this by a practical application in the individual life.
Probably the pinnacle of Stockton's work is his book, The Aboriginal Gift: Spirituality for a Nation (1995). This book drew, together in an in-depth manner all of his work to date and launched him onto another part of his journey. The Aboriginal Gift is set out in three parts. Part 1, an introduction, outlines the Australian context of a multicultural, multifaith society. Part 2 describes in detail the Aboriginal religious culture, and considers contemporary life; the different worldview; traditional religion; life in common; reverence for life and land; and celebration, sacramentality and mysticism. This last section in part 2 was a relatively new area of exploration in Stockton's writing and is further elaborated on in part 3.
The discovery of Dadirri seems to have given new impetus to Stockton's writing, yet at the same time it has grounded it in all that has gone before. It also works as a bridge between Aboriginal spirituality and Christian contemplation—the two beautifully dovetailing with each other. Miriam Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann's own Catholic faith has enabled her to articulate her Aboriginal experience in a way that speaks to non-Aboriginal people of faith. Part 3 describes the real gift that Aboriginal spirituality and culture are to the rest of Australia and steers Stockton into a new area, that of 'Dadirri asceticism' and the mystery of life in the universe, the cosmos, and life in God.
Sacramentality, as Stockton describes it, is not to be understood in the 'narrow "physicalist" understanding of sacrament, in keeping with the theological developments over the last three decades'. For there are deeper correlations with sacrament—and in particular with the Eucharist—with an understanding of our salvation history being prepared for throughout history, enacted at a certain time, and ever made present through the action of the Spirit in ceremony and ritual.
In short, Aboriginal ritual ceremonies were not only commemorations of past creative events, they were also considered effectively to mediate that initial creative activity to the present day ... The ceremony was sacramental: it was the effective sign of present benefit founded in an initial creative act-in much the same way as the Eucharist is the sacramental means of present access to the initial saving act of Christ.
Stockton sees this notion of sacramentality as being very close to the Aboriginal experience of the Dreaming. Aboriginal ceremony, dance, and in fact many aspects of Aboriginals' lives demonstrate this sacramental understanding of life. In particular, as discussed above, the notion of kinship and totems is an example of the activities of the Dreaming ancestors reaching into the present. Stockton, in this section of his book discusses further this notion of 'eternal time', the past being in the present and the present being in the past-'time interpenetrated by eternity' . The example he quotes speaks of this notion of 'eternal time' as being applied not only to ceremony.
Eliade reports from Strehlow the case of a father handing his son, who was about to be initiated, a stone tjurunga with the words, 'this is your own body from which you have been reborn', signifying the identity of the totemic ancestor's body with the tjurunga.
Strehlow reported another striking case of a tjurunga which was accidentally chipped: it was not permitted to smooth the edge, because the tjurunga was regarded as the now-changed body of the ancestral spirit. Retrospectively the being was injured, in a remarkable (as it seems to us) reversal of time.
Stockton wonders, more generally, whether 'the passing of ceremony and damage to sacred sites and objects also operate retrospectively to change the Dreaming'. Patrick Dodson, who is well versed in Catholic theology as well as in his own Aboriginal culture, says: 'Clearly Aboriginal religions have a beautifully worked out spirituality complete with a full and coherent sacramental theology'.
The concept of intersubjectivity is described by Stockton as all parts of the cosmos, alive, conscious and interacting-the human and the environment each being aware of and interacting with the other. Intersubjectivity describes the integral connection the Aborigine has with all of the cosmos and the cosmos with him or her. Stockton quotes Deborah Rose and says that intersubjectivity suggests that 'personal mysticism is part of responsible living and is itself responsible activity to help propel the mystical process throughout the whole cosmos, but from a personal centre'. Rose explains that Aboriginal religion is a religion of immanence. There is a discussion about how this differs from Christianity's being a religion of transcendence. However, Stockton draws the conclusion that for 'Christians of a sacramental tradition (for example, Catholics, Orthodox) the transcendent is made immanent through sacramentality'. Stockton also believes that because of this, there is 'no danger of pantheism in Aboriginal religion and mysticism, such as has been pointed out by churchmen of a bible-based Christianity'.
With this understanding of Aboriginal mysticism in hand, Stockton then presents Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann's concept of Dadirri. He sees this as a 'bridge between Aboriginal mysticism in the traditional form and an Aboriginal mysticism which is thoroughly at home in the Catholic tradition'. Stockton synthesises Miriam-Rose's longer explanation into the following:
It is inner, deep listening and quiet, still awareness.
The contemplative way of 'dadirri'
The other part of 'dadirri' is
I would like to conclude by saying again
But a more detailed look at Dadirri is needed to understand how integral it is to the Aboriginal way of life, to the notion of intersubjectivity and how this connects the Aborigine to the land in a sacramental way. It is, in a sense, a method of approaching the sacred, a contemplative stilling and listening to the Spirit in the land, to God in the land, and it is this method that leads to a mystical experience, an encounter with the great Dreaming spirits, the greatest Dreaming Spirit, Jesus.
Stockton wonders if Dadirri is simply something one Aboriginal woman, articulate in English as her second language and her own Catholic faith, experiences, or whether Dadirri is a more universal expression of modern Aboriginality. He then presents several examples of Dadirri as given by other Aboriginal women—Maisie Cavanagh, Alice Kelly, Ann Pattel-Gray and Rosemary Bell—all describing a similar process of connecting with their country in a contemplative way to strengthen their inner and outer lives. Miriam-Rose, in her Hobart address, when introducing Dadirri, said: 'What I want to talk about today is another special quality of my people. I believe it is the most important. It is our most unique gift. It is perhaps the greatest gift we can give to our fellow Australians. In our language, this quality is called Dadirri ...' Stockton identifies this as 'the gift that Australia is thirsting for'. It is a method of engaging with the land that deepens our connectedness to all of creation, to all of the cosmos. It is a method whereby encounter with God is made so easily attainable. This union is about living communion in a profoundly simple way.
Stockton takes this gift, Dadirri, against the backdrop of the church's 'ethical' call to care for the whole of creation, both socially and environmentally, and shapes it into an ascetical practice. He reaches this point via an explanation of intersubjectivity and science and, in particular, quantum physics, personal metaphysics, and Jewish and Christian Scripture to present Dadirri asceticism. Dadirri asceticism encapsulates Aboriginal mysticism in a very practical approach to living lightly on the earth, being aware of and alert to the Spirit in the land, and making a response to that encounter through living Dadirri.
Stockton's next work, Wonder: A Way to God, is the expression of his personal journey from archaeological and anthropological understandings of Aboriginal people, their culture, religion, life and being, to a personal experience of mystical union with God and land. It is a journey which many make. Loving communion with a triune God and all of creation is where Stockton attempts to be. His journey through Aboriginal spirituality, theological reflection, and faith seeking understanding leads him to wonder, to awe, to a mystical encounter with God through the land. This is sacramental!
Finally, in 2011 Stockton published a book that is a collection of essays begun in 2007; it is entitled The Deep Within: Towards an Archetypal Theology. This work is obviously influenced by his previous work and his now deep contemplative existence. One commendation of the book on the back cover describes Stockton as:
... one of Australia's most creative and visionary spiritual thinkers. A distinguished academic career in theology, scriptural studies and archaeology, imbued with a deeply sensitive and highly attuned spiritual sensibility, has yielded a distinct attentiveness to the deepest currents underneath the surface of life. ...Dr David Ranson, Catholic Institute of Sydney
Another commendation states that:
One constant resource and guide is the Aboriginal experience and Eugene Stockton's long familiarity with the spirituality of the original Australians. In short, there is something both homegrown Australian and genuinely universal about this book. ...Professor Anthony Kelly, Australian Catholic University
Stockton's journey demonstrates a lifetime of rich experience that has been reflected upon deeply and that draws forward to a union with God. This truly is a life work, a gift to the nation.
Ann-Maree O'Beirne rsm.
What are your thoughts on this commentary?
©2014Ann-Maree O'Beirne/Australasian Catholic Record