Sayonara, space and Sophie's birthday

A few months ago I wrote about saying adeus to a Brazilian sister. Yesterday we said sayonara to a Japanese sister after twenty months of sharing life together here in Oxford. Today is also the birthday of St Madeleine Sophie Barat, the woman whose vision, courage and commitment founded and developed the Society and thanks to whom - more than two hundred years later - we have been brought together in the Sacred Heart.

Saying goodbye - in whatever language - is part of life, and often part of apostolic religious life, especially in an international congregation. We live together for months or years, forming bonds, making our own unique contribution, and then a need calls someone elsewhere, leaving behind an empty bedroom which may or may not soon be re-occupied, and a different sort of empty space, in hearts and memories, which can be harder to fill. For Sophie and her contemporaries, with slow, limited means of travel and communication, the good byes were often final  - and all the braver for that. But even now, with oceans and continents between us, we don't actually know if we will meet again; we can only hope and believe that somewhere, sometime, in the hugeness and universality of the Sacred Heart, this will happen.

Our Japanese sister had once done a course in ikebana - Japanese flower arranging. One of her gifts to our community was what she could create with a simple bunch of daffodils or chrysanthemums, while her first encounter with sweet peas produced a stunning arrangement beyond beauty. Early on, as I purred over her creations, she explained that ikebana is not so much about arranging flowers as about the space between and around them, which allows each flower, leaf and stalk to breathe naturally and to be seen and appreciated. Reading a bit more about this, I discovered the importance of the balance between the "positive" space - the space occupied by the arrangement - and the "negative" space - the emptiness forming the background. They are all part of the same, inter-related, of equal value in the whole design.

And now that our sister has gone, and there is an empty space in our community, I remember those sweet peas which once graced our hall. I pray that she, like them, may bloom and thrive in an abundance of space which allows her to overflow in loveliness. And may we here in Oxford, so aware of our new "negative" space, be able to stretch into it, and somehow transform it into a space which is positive and filled with loving loveliness...


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