Just Standing on the Crest of the Hill

On a lovely day in a merry month, several of the Sisters of Mary Magdalene were out walking in the woods surrounding the cloister. As they perused the plants along the path, one of them looked up and noticed Mother Magdalene standing on the rise of the hill just ahead of them. Sister Beatrix turned to the other sisters and asked, “Why do you think Mother Magdalene is standing up there on the top of that hill?”

Sister Septimus said, “She must be up there because it is cooler and she is enjoying the breeze.”

Sister Beatrix looked to Sister Bryda and asked her, “Why do you think Mother Magdalene is up there on the top of the hill?” And Sister           replied, “That hill is the highest point on the cloister grounds, she must be looking to see what can be seen off to the distance.”

Sister Beatrix then asked Sister Visentia who said, “It has been a long and trying year for Mother Magdalene, for us all certainly, but particularly for Mother Magdalene. I believe she is standing there re-collecting the events of the year, perhaps thinking of Sister Ludwika who died in Hurricane Sandy.”

After some time of walking, the good Sisters achieved the rise of the hill and came up to Mother Magdalene. She was still standing there. They asked her to say which one was correct concerning her reason for standing where she was.

Mother Magdalene asked them, “What reasons do you have for my standing her?”

“We have three,” they replied. “First, you are here because it is a bit cooler and to enjoy the breeze; second since the hill is the highest point within the cloister, you are searching out the distance to see what can be seen; third because the year has been a trying one, you are here to re-collect the year and to remember Sister Ludwika. We do not mean to intrude on your practice and your thoughts, but since we found you here, we are hoping you will share your intentions with us.”

Mother Magdalene smiled at the sisters and said, “Dear ones, I was just standing, standing in the presence, in the presents of all that is. That is enough. I am; we are. That is enough. That is everything.”

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On Solitude and Forgiveness: imagine a world of compassion

Back at the cloister of the Sisters of Mary Magdalene, they tell a story of one of the Mothers of the Dessert (yes, I mean to have 2 ‘s’ in the word) who was living a life of prayer and solitude.  The Sisters of the Dessert committed their lives to celebrating the sweetness of all creation. In those days, the Sisters saw their cloister as a place of solitude, and as a milieu for learning and deepening respect for justice and for the dignity of all sentient beings and for the ecology which nourished and nurtures us. The good sisters also believed in teaching through their example.

According to this story, one of the Sisters had committed a fault, and a council was convened to determine what should be done. The Mother was invited to participate in the council, but she declined to go.  Eventually one of the younger Sisters came to her and said, “Mother everyone is waiting for you.”

So, the Mother got up and found a leaky water skin. She filled it to its capacity with water, and carried it to the place where the council was meeting, with the leaky spot over her left shoulder. When she got to the council, the sisters there said to her, “Mother, why are you carrying that old water skin?”

And the Mother said to them, “My sins run out behind me, and I do not see them. And yet, today I am coming to judge the error of another.”

When the sisters heard this, they said no more of the fault of the young Sister, but forgave her.  The example of the Wise Mother was all the lesson they needed to be reminded that each of us is in need of forgiveness. In their solitude they learned to see themselves as they truly are, unvarnished, unadorned. In their solitude they took the time to look to their center, into their hearts and find the core of love that nurtures the soul of each of our beings.

For the Sisters of the Dessert, solitude helps them to find the place where they were balanced, gentle and caring. In their solitude they became compassionate through their realization that nothing human is alien to us. They stopped judging others, stooped evaluating themselves and became free to be compassionate.

And so the Sisters of the Cloister of Mary Magdalene practice solitude. We too might take up the practice, each of us in our own small way. Ten to twenty minutes in the morning is not an impossible pathway to solitude. Solitude can help to mould each of us into gentle, caring, forgiving people as we acknowledge our own faults and become aware of the mercy and compassion that have graced our lives. Imagine the world of peace, justice and respect for dignity we might envision and build from a place of solitude. Meditation is not just for navel gazing. It is for healing the wounds of oppression and discrimination. It is for clearing our vision and opening our hearts to the more that is possible. Imagine!