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Heart's ease - an infusion was said to help mend a broken heart

Thursday, 9 June 2016

If the Lord be God...

One of our sisters died yesterday morning; one with whom I had lived in East London. Joan died aged ninety, a prophetic and indomitable woman whose increasing fragility and ill health masked a strong, resolute will. She was someone who was driven and given: driven by a consuming inner fire, and given, entirely, to the God at the source of that fire. This didn't always make living with her a comfortable experience, because Joan wasn't really into comfort, or comfort zones, especially her own: she expected and wanted God to discomfort her, and such an example is inevitably challenging. But it did make her someone who, over seven decades, willingly gave unstinting service to the province, the international Society, those she taught and to the marginalised and unjustly treated she encountered.

I can remember Joan telling me about her call to the Society. She was fifteen; a pupil at a Society boarding school, attending a school retreat. The reading came from 1 Kings, and Elijah's words struck her, heard for the first time: If the Lord be God, follow him. With horror, she knew she was being called to religious life. I say "with horror", because very few people will ever greet the first intimation of a call to religious life with open arms: in 1940 religious life was especially austere, and must have appeared very forbidding and circumscribed to a lively, energetic teenager. And yet... and yet... she could surely also see that the RSCJ at her school had something; some source of inner joy, some unseen, intangible recompense...

That day she ended up sitting on a wall, drumming her heels, muttering I can't... I can't... I can't... Five years later she could, and she did.

If the Lord be God, follow him... It's a stark call, with no hint of hundredfold, no promise of any sort of recompense; no assurance or reassurance of grace, contemplative joy or personal fulfilment: just an imperative - follow him. And Joan did, in more than seventy years of fidelity, even in times of doubt and wavering - if the Lord was God, then she could do no less.

In 1993 Joan wrote a short reflection arising from her experience of accompanying sisters on their final journey to God. Summing up, she said Our three most precious gifts are life, love and time. In this holy and humble time of waiting for the moment of final ecstasy, these gifts are still present. We, who silently stand and watch in awe, must contain and keep in mind these gifts, so that we may give them back...

And so we, who knew Joan and have benefited from the gifts of her life, love and time now give her back, in the sure hope that her decades of dogged discipleship have at last been dissolved into that final and eternal ecstasy - the greatest recompense God can ever give.

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