When we last looked in on the good Sisters of Mary Magdalene they had just returned to their Cloister after the tempestuous winds of Storm Sandy.
Sandy left the grounds of the cloister were badly battered. Trees had been uprooted and tossed about wildly and wantonly. Tree limbs crashed through windows, and other windows were blow out. The wind and the rain wreaked havoc in the rooms where the windows were broken through. Outer building were lifted off their foundations and tossed about like so much jetsam and flotsam. The cloisters buildings and grounds were a sad sight to sore eyes for even the most awakened of hearts.
And the good Sisters returned to this, took up their cloths, tools and prayers and began the work of cleaning and restoring their home the cloister to its pristine ascetic aesthetic. Mother Magdalene organized the Sisters into work teams with rotating captains for each team, following the best in feminist team building principles.
Sister Bryda continued to walk the property looking for artifacts that might have been blown about by the winds, up righting statuary where she could, marking project that needed more heft, flagging areas that were safety hazards.
Sister Visentia moved through the buildings and gathered the damaged and broken setting it to be repaired by the sisters during the coming cold months.
Sister Septimus collected the damaged documents from the archives, immediately setting to clean and repair them before the dirt and mud could mar them beyond restoration. Sister Septimus took to her task with a care, persistence and gentleness that even she had never known in herself. She found a deep and abiding sense of peace as she caressed and cleans the ancient documents that found their home in the cloisters library. Ah, the library and its once beautiful stained glass windows. The windows were now gone, and all that was stained in the library were the books and the papers. And Sister Septimus worked on, collecting, sorting and cleaning.
For days and weeks Sister Septimus worked methodically and meticulously at cleaning and restoring book after book, document after document. And in the evenings during refectory, she asked Mother Magdalene for permission to read “People of the Book” by Geraldine Brooks. Mother Magdalene thought this an odd choice, but Sister Septimus rarely sought to read lay literature. So, Mother Magdalene granted her request, but inquired gently of Sister Septimus about her interest in the book. The right side of Sister Septimus mouth turned ever so slightly in the direction of a smile, and Septimus allowed as how she feels an empathy with Hannah Heath, the book conservator who is the central character in the book. “reading about her dogged determination there, somehow just helps me to keep going here. I know its fiction, but it just nurtures my heart and my work” said Sister Septimus. And Mother Magdalene smiled and nodded, “indeed” was all she said in return.
And the work continued. One day weeks into the repair and restoration, Mother Magdalene heard Sister Septimus weeping. She went to her at once, and found her holding the original charter of the cloister, written in the hand of their founding collective, signed by the first Mother Magdalene, and subsequently copied in the hand of each of the following Mothers. Sister Septimus silently pointed to the line in the rules of community life, the line that called on the sisters to lead their lives as ‘celibate’ women. “Oh, mother, what have we done to each other!” she wept.
Mother Magdalene, looked at Sister Septimus with confusion and then began to weep herself as she read the original document herself – for the first time. It was the practice of each new Mother Magdalene to read and recopy the document from the hand of her predecessor; the prior documents were archived and stored for perpetual safe keeping. As Sister Septimus and Mother Magdalene stood weeping and holding the original charter document both of them saw that one of the successor Mother Magdalene’s had miswritten — she left out the ‘r’ and wrote celibate; but the original rule of community life did not challenge the sisters to live their lives as ‘celibate’ women, rather it called on them to CELEBRATE.
Mother Magdalene and Sister Septimus looked each other deeply in the eye, and with their full open hearts they determined and pledged that from this day forward as it was in the beginning, the Cloister of the Sisters of Mary Magdalene would be women who celebrate.
And what does all of this have to do with justice and respect for the dignity of all beings? Only that we are called to openly accept all – to accept everyone (including our selves) – fully into our hearts just as they are, just as we are. It is not the distance of celibacy that marks the path to holiness. It is the open hearted loving embrace of celebration that leads to wholeness, and through celebration of the wholeness of each of us, of all of us, we will walk the path to respect for our dignity and to lives of fairness and justice. So (along with Three Dog Night — the band named for those nights SO cold you needed three dogs in bed with you to keep warm 😉 along with Three Dog Night let your heart and soul sing) … celebrate, celebrate! Dance to the music — of love and life!