A time for proving...

On Thursday eleven sisters from ten countries were welcomed to their programme of preparation for their perpetual vows. Via Facebook RSCJ from around the world sent greetings and messages which spoke of the time ahead as 'precious', 'unforgettable', a time of 'grace and depth', of prolonged prayer, reflection, growth and space, and - very much - the 'gift of each one in the group'. And of course prayers were promised - as I discovered for myself back in 2003, our probanists are held in a very special, profound way at the heart of the Society and its prayer.

'Probanists' are what we call the sisters engaged in this programme - which is called 'probation'; a word which, in English at least, is more often used to describe a form of conditional, supervised liberty for offenders. Elsewhere, in most places new employees generally undergo a probationary period, in which their progress might be monitored - or even tested. And being tested is what this word is all about, deriving as it does from the Latin verb probare, meaning to test, demonstrate or prove. Probare also lies at the root of related words such as probe, and prove, and itself derives from a Latin word meaning honest or good. Here testing or proving is about bringing to the fore that which is good, rather as character can often be built in adversity.

So is an RSCJ probation a time of testing? Well, it can certainly be very intense, and have its times of difficulty and doubt: international community can be as demanding as it is enriching, the long retreat challenges as it calls, and, away from our normal busyness and home environment we can find ourselves very starkly before God, and maybe a few too many demons. But grace and growth await us in all this, the Team and our sisters are there with tenderness and support, and the Spirit is always hard at work within us as individuals and group.

But as any baker or fan of GBBO knows, in English at least, the word 'proving' is also a technical term used in bread-making to describe the times when the dough is left to rest, while the leaven which permeates it causes it to rise. And just as the stillness of the noviciate comes very early in religious formation, so in baking the first proving comes at the beginning, when the dough grows and expands and rises considerably. But then the dough is - often vigorously - kneaded, stretched and shaped, and needs a second and final rest - in which it will rise some more - before it is baked.

As with dough, so we too need to rest - especially after a time of stretching and shaping and life's kneading effects! - in order to allow Christ's leavening power to work in us, that we might rise and expand. So maybe it's no accident that 'proving' bread is also - though rarely - known as 'blooming'... because what does sustained rest do, except enable us to blossom, flourish, thrive and grow in energy? Blooming is also about growth, unfurling and opening up, to be and to display the fullness of the loveliness for which we were created. And all this has to be my prayer for my eleven sisters as they begin this time of probation: that it may be a time for proving, resting, leavening and rising... for opening to God and to the world... and most definitely for blooming, and becoming the greatest loveliness and love that God intended them to be...