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Delma's big wide sigh of pain

  • 09 July 2014

When Delma Joy Young prayed she poured her heart out. Her heart was as wide as the pain and anguish that lies deep inside her and our world. On Sunday nights at St Canice's, King's Cross, Christians, Jews and Muslims used to gather to offer hospitality to street people: cheese on toast, hot tea and coffee, cakes. 

Before we began serving, we used to sit outside with the street people to pray. I have been schooled to pray in the Christian way, others in the Muslim and Jewish way. Delma's prayer lifted us to another place. She was untamed and fierce and all the pain and suffering in her and around us and in our world came tumbling out. If God is, as Rowan Williams has said, the 'sigh of compassion' at the heart of our world, then Delma is the big, wide sigh of pain that God responds to.

On 27 June we farewelled Delma in a service at the Wayside Chapel. She was 48. There were hundreds of her friends there, the chapel was packed, people were outside, on the footpath. Her mother and foster mother were in the front seat, her brothers and sisters and their families, her partners and children. Her mother was a 'Cootamundra girl', taken when she was eight, together with all her siblings.

Ricky, her brother, had taken his life some years before. Nathanial, her son, could not get permission from the prison authorities to be there: 'Will you visit him when you are in Bathurst? Tell him you were here. We are worried about him.'

Mostly the service was people getting up to speak. 'Love' was the word most used. There is not much else in life for the people there, not much they have left except one another and love. It was flowing, as were the tears. Sally looked up from her knitting and said as I passed her on my way in: 'There are too many deaths.' I remembered the words of my friend, Greg Thompson, when he was Bishop of Darwin: 'Aboriginals here don't have leaders. They die too young.' 

Once when I was the priest at St Canice's, Delma was distraught. She was walking up and down the middle of Roslyn Street, wailing. People were leaning out of their windows, calling out for someone to do something. Delma kept on wailing, cars swerved to avoid her. She sat down on the