Every few days Tjingapa makes her way down to the old mission hut to find me. She comes with her compliment of 5 dogs: two big ones (with excellent Kalgoorlie pedigrees) that look after her; and three little ones which, I have learned, are two brothers and a sister. In all our conversations Tjingapa uses more Ngaanyatjarra than English, which is how it has always been. Since I was a teenager she has insisted I learn some new pronunciations in every exchange; and she leads the talk gradually away from English and into the rolling and gentle cadences of her tongue. She is always sensitive to my comprehension and, in the winsome way of her people, keeps me well away from the trap of embarrassment; nurturing relationship above all else.
Much of our conversation is familiar; there is a liturgy through which we pass. It includes the declaration that she has followed Mama God since she was a little girl. “I can’t leave Him”. We discuss her husband who lives in a nursing home in another community; but this is her land and this is her home. I hear about the old peppercorn and gum trees nearby, some of which once shaded early mission buildings and others which were planted by significant people in her memory. And we confer about our families; with careful attention to the progress of one who might have been unwell, another who was getting married, or a grandchild. Especially grandchildren! Whenever we talk we also pray, as so many Warburton people do.
We have something in common, this sister and I. We are both on a journey from doing to being. Tjingapa because of her 75 or so years (as she often reminds me), and I because of other factors beyond my control. As we sit together I yearn to know what this journey means. I sense that Tjingapa is way ahead of me, her very culture is one of being, where as mine is one of relentless doing. I think of the many trips I have made to this and other communities in Central Australia, armed to the hilt with the tools of my trade, ready to make it happen! Building, renovating, managing; always working with veritable missionary zeal. I’ve always wanted to be a man-on-a-mission; in a rather dependant sort of way I suspect. Perhaps I can be her disciple.
When city dwellers visit communities the first thing they tend to notice is everything that hasn’t been done: the rubbish lying round, the disorder and general disrepair. What I have noticed on this trip is something entirely different. If I sit on the narrow strip of metal veranda outside my door in the cool of the day, like as not someone will soon come and sit with me. Why? Well, it’s important to be with one another. Coming from a culture riddled with loneliness, I find it sublime.
My own incapacity increasingly forces me to depend on others to do for me what I cannot do for myself. I feel guilty, and sometimes grossly irresponsible; and it is a terribly difficult thing to bear. My temperament doesn’t help. I keep my trusty Leatherman close by, because there just might be something that needs to be fixed! I’m good with my hands and within reason I can make just about anything … or so I think. My childhood was bracketed neatly by the slow completion of the Sydney Opera House, and I can still see its various stages of construction that fascinated me so much. Well … I could have built that! Or so I think.
I remember the enigmatic bible story of Mary and Martha: Mary draws Martha’s ire with her avoidance of the practicalities of hospitality; while Martha resents Mary’s idleness as she sits at Jesus’ feet. But, unexpectedly, Jesus affirms Mary: she has chosen the right path, being rather than doing. When I read the story I always have sympathy for Martha, after all somebody has to do the work. Don’t they?
Is it a matter of priority? Is it a season of life? Does being do any good? Should one do more being? And what of these intrinsic words: fruitfulness, value, and usefulness? If they are the measure of life, am I still locked in the mode of doing? I remember that the One I follow was a Carpenter (like me!) and must also have laboured hard, tools at the ready, to make it happen. Perhaps his finished work was enough for all of us. Perhaps if we become Mary to Christ; He somehow, in ways beyond knowing, becomes Martha to us.
And Tjingapa always, always, talks about happiness. The all important pukurlpa that comes when we sit down together: “Pukurlpalan nyinara mamala ngamu”. There is an undeniable spiritual dynamic, “for where two or three are gathered in my Name, there am I in the midst of them”. “Nyangka-tjananyarna ngururr-ngururrpa ngarama”.
The less I do, the more I become. The slower I go, the deeper I delve. In being I welcome Him; and in the business of doing I have sometimes overlooked His presence, or worse, His purpose.
I am inseparably tied to One who says simply of himself,
PS … On the same day that this photo was taken, I read most of my essay to Tjingapa. The concept of a Blog is not within her world, however I did ask for her permission to share this story.
PPS … Early in 2011 Tjingapa went to God. The world is a poorer place without saints such as her; but Heaven is not doubt a richer one. I miss her, good friend that she was.
13 thoughts on “Being & Doing”
Very nourishing, again
Some remarkable insights, I particuarly appreciated how we from a culture of doing, seem to notice so quickly and what is not “done”. It makes me wonder if the antithesis is true, do those from a culture of being notice equally quickly those things that we have failed to be?
This ties in closely to a thought that has been chasing me: if the “being” of Christ following seems to me more and more central and genuine, how do we manage to unseat the “doing” of ministry and rethrone the “being” of Christ following?
Yes Mark, I like that thought very much “what have we failed to be?” that’s so true. I was talking with a man here a few days ago who was quite perplexed at the fact that the white men he works with have no faith or belief at all. He tries to talk to them, and finds they have no interest.
We certainly “do” church dont we? Just read an interesting book by Gene Edwards that challenges that mindset pretty sternly.
Congratulations on your little Lilly! How wonderful for you both! Blessings.
This is a real blessing , it shows how much we are missing by not ” being” with these wonderful people. I like you think they may be way ahead of us with their simple faithful belief.
Hello Roderick, have been in prayer this morning with some issues, and reading this just now has been an incredible confirmation and a wonderful blessing to me. Thanks Mate! Trish
Well that’s wonderful.
The day before I leave, washing day – and it’s raining!
This post has attracted more comment than any other – mostly by email and SMS. It must be that the topic strikes a common chord with us busy westerners.
Rod, I think you’ve really hit it–the common chord about “doing rather than being”, we know in our heart is wrong. Your statement: “Perhaps if we become Mary to Christ; He somehow, in ways beyond knowing, becomes Martha to us.” …has been my own experience since having been diagnosed.
And there is Jacob’s wrestling with the Angel, which broke Jacob in the strongest part of himself. It seems the Lord often takes our strength when He is bringing us closer to Him. God bless you and keep writing.
I’m so glad you found this post, it’s my favourite and I feel I can take no credit at all for what I wrote. I was out there in the desert and this is what the people and the place had to say.
Hello Roderick, this is very beautiful, and it is exactly what i meant about the Desert, that spiritual place of stipping which leaves us newborn….we fear Being, because we have to be authentic, no ego structures to put us in an Ivory tower…we sit on the ground…the ground of our being. Have you read any of the Desert Fathers and Mothers teachings? These are the first christians to go out to the Desert on purpose…they discovered a treasure when they put sitting at Jesus’feet first: listening. That treasure is charity, Love…genuine, humble, being with….self, others, God. This is exactly what I was trying to share with you about going out wilderness camping…But there is an Inner Desert too, and I believe ALS has all the makings of this. Remember how you felt when B4 was unavailable? That too is a Desert.
Yes I have read a little of those authors over the years, especially after I met a chaplain at the Alfred hospital in Melbourne who had spent some years in a monastic order. I have written a couple of other blogs that tried to articulate the painful joy of desert dwelling, and although I feel I have experienced the element of joy, the broad response from my readers was that my writing was bleak!
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