Becoming a woman of dialogue

by Sr Mary Reaburn

Naturally my Christian commitment and my life as a sister are intertwined.

The charism of the sisters of Notre Dame de Sion has led me in paths I did not imagine as a young woman. It broadened my horizons, as I slowly understood both the particular and universal dimensions to the Congregation’s life and charism. They give me life and a point of reference, a vision.

Teaching me to see differently what I thought I understood

This charism, a gift of the Holy Spirit for the sake of the Church and the world, is vital at this time in history. We, the sisters, neither own nor control it but we do have responsibilities to act in ways that keep this gift alive and make it responsive to the needs of today and to the different cultures in which it is cherished. While there is no simple statement of this charism it holds together the Jewishness of our founder (Théodore Ratisbonne) and the Jewish people of today with the Jewishness of Jesus and his early followers; it also holds Jesus’ and Théodore’s concern for those on the margins. I think that both Jesus and Théodore learned this sensitivity to justice from the prophets of the First or Old Testament.

My commitment to justice is also influenced by the history of the Jewish people and the way they suffered in Christian societies and especially during the Nazi regime. The murder of Jews and homosexuals and others considered worthless was influenced by a history of anti-Jewish sentiment in Christian teaching. These concerns impel me to work daily for justice and peace through dialogue.

This charism has two main expressions in my ministry. I teach Scripture, especially the Psalms and Wisdom Literature, and I am involved in several committees dialoguing about Jewish-Christian and interfaith relations. These involvements use my gifts and keep teaching me to see differently what I thought I understood. I find that a Psalm I studied, and then taught in class, will later surprise me because I had not noticed a detail that suddenly has meaning. I believe that the Scriptures are an inexhaustible source of nourishment that keeps calling me to grow and challenge my limited views.

At the moment Psalm 19 is one of my favourites; it is a hymn where the psalmist is overwhelmed by the message that the enormity of the sky and the sun speak, without words. What is amazing is that then the psalmist is led to ponder the wonders of God’s revelation in the Scriptures, which are seen as reviving self and enlightening the eyes. The psalmist marvels that both the heavens and the biblical text reveal the wonderous presence of God.

Truly listening to each other, without expecting to change the other but finding that the exchange has changed me

The First Testament brings Christians and Jews together to study the text while knowing that we come with different traditions of interpretation. This has allowed me to engage with Jewish and Christian scholarship and with Christian and Jewish people as we learn about each other’s traditions and from each other. I have been a member of the Melbourne Archdiocesan Ecumenical and Interfaith Commission and am currently on the Australian Bishops’ Council for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations.

I have learned the importance of dialogue, truly listening to each other, without expecting to change the other but finding that the exchange has changed me and opened me to a different way of seeing. These dialogues have helped me know and appreciate my own tradition as they remind me that there is a myriad of ways that God is known on our tiny planet.

Thus, the charism has taught me to be a woman of dialogue and a woman of the Word. I express this in my ministry and also in my personal life and in my prayer. My prayer, and our prayer, is biblical, based not simply on New Testament texts but in texts from the whole bible. I love the First or Old Testament; its stories, poetry, characters and sense of God thrill me and make me ponder the mystery and intimacy of God’s ways with God’s people Israel and with all people and with the wonders of Creation.

When I read the New Testament, I see just how Jewish it is and it shows me the depth of God’s desire to be in relationship with all who are made in God’s image and likeness. I hear a first century Jewish man teach and watch him engage those around him, especially the poor and forgotten. I know that what he understood as “Scripture” is what I know as the Old Testament and I pray it with him.

There is a myriad of ways that God is known on our tiny planet

We, sisters of Our Lady of Sion, as our name indicates, have a special love for Jerusalem. I was privileged to work there for six months of each year for seven years and it feels like my second home. There I witnessed the most engaging and sometimes the most destructive interfaith relations. I pray daily that the dialogue which takes place there will grow and flourish.

I feel my life is rich because of the charism. Does that mean that I have a perfect life? No, I too experience limitations and disappointments like everyone. However, I am grateful for the vision and charism of the Congregation that nurture my life and give it meaning. The meaning demands action and prayer. I am truly blessed to be called, daily, to be a woman of the Word and a woman of dialogue.