When to be Practical – A somewhat revised version of a Sufi Story by Mohammed Gwath Shattari
The good Sisters of Mary Magdalene were grieving the loss of Sister Visentia. Some of the sisters found themselves holding Sister Septimus culpable – for leaving Sister Visentia on her own with the bear chasing her, for not marshalling a search party of the other sisters sooner, and just because they just really liked Sister Visentia better (although none of the good sisters would admit this last reason). To help them deal with their grief and to heal their relationships, Sisters Bryda, Ludwika and Septimus decided to set off on a retreat together. For their retreat, they elected to hike the Appalachian Trail. As they hiked the trail, the good Sisters discussed the importance of putting into practice everything they had learned in the cloister, and they committed themselves to helping each other sink their roots more deeply into a spiritual life of social justice.
Together the good sisters discussed the nuances of love and compassion, they talked about the golden rule, the platinum rule, about the importance of self love as a foundation for loving others well. They found themselves talking about Sister Visentia, her embodiment of all they cherished in the rule of Mary Magdalene. They found themselves chuckling at some of Sister Visentia’s odd little habits – the way she would poke out her lower lip when she was thinking and when she was pouting or sulking a bit. And the laugher helped to ease their loss. They walked and talked, and soon they we so engrossed in their thoughts and conversation that it was quite late at night when they realized that all they had with them was one piece of somewhat stale, hard bread. And they concurrently realized that they were well along the most remote portion of the Appalachian Trail where they were not likely to encounter others and they would not come to a town for a few days more journey.
But, all in all the day had been a sweet one, and so the Sisters decided not to discuss who most should/would eat the bread; since they were pious women, they decided to leave the decision in the hands of the Mary Magdalene to patron saint of their order. They prayed that during the night their patron would inspire them with the wisdom to know who should eat the bread.
The following morning, the three women rose together at sunrise.
“This is my dream,” said the Sister Ludwika. “I was taken to places I had never visited before, and enjoyed the sort of peace and harmony I have sought in vain during my entire life on earth. In the midst of this paradise, our mother, Mary Magdalene said to me: “you are my chosen servant, you never sought pleasure, always renounced all things of this world. This hard, dry bread holds with the path you have chosen, and I choose you to partake of its sustenance.”
“That’s very strange,” said the Sister Bryda. “For in my dream, I saw my past of service and devotion to the sisters, to our order and to our patron Mary Magdalene. Our Patron spoke to me and affirmed my future role within our cloister. As I gazed at that which is to come, I heard our mother Mary Magdalene, saying: “You are in great need of food for I have called you to works of service that will require strength and energy.”
Then Sister Septimus said:”In my dream I saw nothing, went nowhere, and found no wise women. However, at a certain hour during the night, I suddenly woke up and was overcome with hunger. So I ate the bread.”
The other two were furious:”And why didn’t you wake us up and consult with us before making such a vital decision that effects us all!?”
“How could I?” Said Sister Septimus, “You were both so far away, talking with our mother, Mary Magdalene, and having such holy visions! Yesterday we discussed the importance of putting into practice all that we learn in the cloister. In my case, God acted quickly, and had me awake dying of hunger!”
This story illustrates the need to nurture ourselves, and the importance and place of self care, as well as the dilemma of balancing self care and caring for others, and the ability to laugh at ourselves and with others.