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Journalist learns the power of accompanying

  • 17 April 2019
At Adelaide Writers' Week in March, journalist George Megalogenis asked Leigh Sales who had surprised her most in the research for her book Any Ordinary Day. She replied: 'Steve Sinn, the priest. Because I'm not religious myself and I felt like we were going to have nothing in common and his way of looking at the world wouldn't make sense to me ...'

Sales' book is an investigation into how people survive the worst that can happen. The book's tagline is 'Blindsides, resilience and what happens after the worst day of your life.' Sales met Jesuit priest Fr Steve Sinn through Juliet Darling — one of the people whose story of traumatic loss is told.

Sales told Megalogenis: 'So Steve Sinn said to me you have to accompany people when things happen to them.' And I said to him, "How do you know what to say? Do you feel like God tells you what to do and what to say?" And he said, "Well no, I've got no idea. I just show up and then I'm just there and if I say the wrong thing and they snap at me it doesn't matter ... It's not about me it's about the other person. You just have to show your willingness to keep accompanying and stop thinking about yourself and what you might do wrong."'

This willingness to accompany and be alongside brokenness recalls for me the writing of Bill Williams, a man with a chronic disability who experienced the regular presence of carers. In his book Naked before God: The return of a broken disciple, he said he craved 'a non-anxious presence ... I've been with people who are not made anxious by my brokenness, and I've seen the difference. It is, in fact, the best definition of ministry I have ever heard; I nearly wept when I heard it, it so defined what I needed.'

There is a deep reciprocity in this awareness, one that trusts that the presence of two humans together is a solidarity even within the profound loneliness that suffering can bring. Sales writes of the way Sinn helped Darling: 'By offering his own bewildered humanity, Steve Sinn allowed Juliet hers.' There is no sense of proclamation in this awareness, it is not about being holy or trying to 'present' the Divine; it does not come with the kind of theology that needs to put in a word from the sponsor.