Kulila: We are called to stop and listen

‘We are our best as people when we can sit on the earth, settle and listen to one another.’ Fr Brian F. McCoy SJ reflects on First Nations constitutional recognition and the Catholic Church Plenary Council.

Kulila! The word kulila, or a word very similar, is found in a number of Australian desert languages. It means to listen, hear and understand. A teacher might use this word when entering a classroom. It is an invitation and exhortation to receive new knowledge by careful and attentive listening.

At the moment in Australia a conversation has begun asking how we might hear a First Nations voice in our Constitution and in our Parliament. Within our Church there is another conversation in relation to how we might hear the voice of many in our Church in the coming Plenary Council.

Both conversations can end up with a focus on what we hope might be achieved. We wonder what words might be appropriate in a Constitution to acknowledge the special place of First Nations peoples in our nation’s identity. We wonder in the Church if we can be audacious enough to grasp issues around clericalism and lay governance.

We can end up looking at final solutions without the careful listening that needs to preface any important decisions.

Across the cultures of many Indigenous peoples lies the importance of oral history, the sharing and transmission across and within generations of stories, history and culture. Much importance is placed on listening to the wisdom of the elders and the knowledge of those who walked, lived and celebrated life on this land over millenia.

Listening affects our whole being. It invites our spirit to settle, putting aside what distracts and concerns us. It prioritises a movement of the heart in response to those who are speaking. It says our being is more important than our doing. Being involves listening and being attentive to the ‘other’.

I am not surprised when meeting Aboriginal friends there is an invitation to sit with them. Not to pass by, email, or phone, but to sit with them and listen. Not quick and passing conversations but gentle, slow and patient ones. Sitting grounds us. We are our best as people when we can sit on the earth, settle and listen to one another.

Both the Uluru Statement from the Heart and the coming Plenary Council ask us to listen carefully. To allow the contexts of conversations to support patient and deep conversion. To put aside our preferences and prejudices and enter a mode that is open and prepared to change.

We are called to stop and listen. To put aside for the moment proposed outcomes or statements. We are invited to sit on the ground with elders and youth, to hear what lies in their hearts. To become a nation and a Church that builds its future by firstly engaging in deep and attentive listening. Kulila!

Fr Brian F. McCoy SJ, Provincial