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 Global Perspective

October 15, 2003
Vol. 1, No. 29

Geraldine Hawkes
Geraldine Hawkes is coordinator of St Paul's City Ministry, an ecumenical centre that works with business people to bring ethics alive in boardrooms, debating chambers and workplaces across South Australia. She is also Chair of the Commission for Australian Catholic Women, which promotes greater participation of women in the church in Australia.



Who knows what each did or didn't do afterward, but at least for an hour or two, some people were open to pulling back the curtains and learning new steps to old dances.

Pulling back the curtains

By Geraldine Hawkes

ADELAIDE, Australia -- It was a warm and sunny summer's day when I shut the windows and closed the curtains to block out the sounds and sights outside. I was living in a town in central Scotland, and the annual celebrations by the local Loyalist Lodge, commemorating the Battle of the Boyne on 12 July 1690, were taking place. It's a tradition most often associated with Northern Ireland, but there is a resonance in the bitterness and prejudice between Catholics and Protestants in both countries. What happens in one place is often replicated in the other.

The celebrations take the form of marching bands, and the sound -- with its shrill flutes and booming drums -- evoked for me, as for many Catholics, memories of Protestant domination and oppression over the Catholics of Northern Ireland across the centuries. Saturday 12 July was a day to close curtains, shut out the world and pretend that what was being remembered in our local streets could not touch my equilibrium.

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As the band came closer, I switched on the vacuum cleaner as an additional precaution and I felt certain that this year I was not going to be disturbed. Around 5 p.m., I put away the vacuum cleaner, opened the curtains, surveyed the clean and tidy rooms and prepared to make the dinner.

I realized that our son, Adrian, 5, had not appeared all afternoon. I thought that in closing out the noise, I had perhaps not heard him at the door. Within a few minutes, however, I heard his feet jogging along the path and could hear him singing. As he bounded through the door, he beamed at me, his face shining and sparkling. "Mum, I've had a wonderful afternoon. I've been dancing with the band all over the place."

Adrian's words made me think that while we can't change the stories of the past, we can open ourselves to one another by pulling back the curtains that separate and divide and by choosing to dance with each other,

Twenty years on, I am now living in Australia, and this "pulling back the curtains" has been an important aspect of my work as coordinator of St Paul's City Ministry, an ecumenical center for ethics. Our major focus is running workshops and seminars on corporate ethics. We also facilitate conversations on the spirituality of work and encourage reflection on the connection between faith and work.

Most of the time, as would be expected, there is a large number of Christians at events that we run. They come from across the spectrum and are truly representative of the Christian church. As we have become more established in the city, more people from other faiths -- and of no faith -- are attending conversations and workshops. The Lenten season this year provided a particularly good reminder of the curtains and the dance.

For the six weeks leading toward Easter, we ran sessions on various themes around the season. Two of the participants were women who were Baha'i. They said that they hoped to learn more about some of the common traditions in our respective faiths, which could assist them in understanding more deeply the people with whom they work. Our first topic was fasting. Most of those present commented that they had let go of the practice over the years, while for others it had never been a focus at all.

The two Baha'i women described how they were currently involved in the intense period of fasting that marks various stages of the Baha'i journey. They explained how fasting, while extremely difficult and challenging in the early stages, had led them over the years into deep spiritual experience. This experience was multifaceted: they developed an ability to let go of the materialism to which so many often succumb, they came to an appreciation of the gifts that surround them and there was a sense of solidarity with those who did not have enough to eat on a daily basis. It was, for them, no longer about doing without food and drink, but about entering into the realm of the spiritual. The older woman smiled when she said that she had reached the stage of actually looking forward to these periods of fasting and the serenity and peace that came with them.

The others present acknowledged that they had discovered something new about a practice that is not widely understood or practised in our Australian society and felt encouraged to explore some wider applications of the concept of fasting. One of them said, "Fasting is something I haven't done since I was a child during Lent. Today I hear it as an invitation at any time to focus less on my physical needs to become more aware of my spiritual being."

Who knows what each did and didn't do afterward, but at least for an hour or two, some people were open to pulling back the curtains and learning new steps to old dances.

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