Sister MadeleineMississippi Abbey

“It was the song-sound of Love “

Tiptoeing out into the dark to find my way to the monastery church, cool summer night’s air seeped in through my skin. Mossy oak’s silhouette gently drew my eyes upward and, suddenly, I was a-gasp. The sky was a star-sea, an unfathomable vastness of shining and aliveness and wonder! And a longing for whatever it was that awakes these monks early, to pray in the night, awoke then too, in me.

Later, another visit, another monastery, I traipsed through thick knobby forest, thumbing Mama Mary’s beads, desperate for God’s will, for soil wherein I could finally lay down my whole life. But while I was a tangle of passions and fears, the monks were so simple. They wore simple habits and simple smiles, chanting simple psalms in spaciousness of wood and stone and light. Like the trees, they were there, unseen but breathing Spirit into the air, holding place while pilgrims did their wandering.

These Cistercian sojourns were significant but seldom, and they seemed like whispers of a secret that wasn’t yet mine to know. What I did know was that I wanted to be low, unknown, and with people in their pain and need. Perhaps because I’d known pain, as well. So I was a Catholic Worker for a while, both receiving and extending shelter in a big yellow house of hospitality.

But eventually that path and even its spur trails washed away. A great river was rising, both within and without, and I needed somewhere to flee, to grieve, to be empty. I retreated to a hilltop’s community of, this time, nuns. It was winter, bluffs and woods and fields on fire with new snow. In walking and weeping, stillness and silence, “Your tears, your love and your longing are all my work,” Jesus said. And that was it. It was the song-sound of love that I’d never heard but deeply, deeply knew.

But wait… Here? With these strangers? Cloistered? Making candy?

But “God is a strange lover”, and little by little, and finally with such power – healing and joy and not only willingness but desire to swim with theSister Madeleine smiling in habit in front of building current of such rushing, unfaltering grace – Jesus said “Go, learn the meaning of my mercy”. It was that old secret, unveiled.

Now a simply professed member of Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey, my heart ponders: How is it that these strangers are becoming my sisters? How has the enclosure opened unto solidarity? How has the candy house transformed into holy ground, like the garden, like our choir stalls, like the alleyways and soup kitchens where my kindred sleep and eat?

It’s mystery, and it’s true: The broken body of the poor on the street is the same as the broken body on the altar. And I am but one honeybee, called to one thing: to the wounded side of Jesus, wherein He is making all bitterness sweet and all the world anew.

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