Profession of Sister Ruth White8 November 2006
God said to Moses, What is the meaning of all this clamour, Tell the children of Israel to march on, /or Tell them to strike camp and move on, /or Tell them to get moving, /Tell them to go ahead./ Tell them to GO FORWARD.
Do you get the message?! Strike camp, move on, GO FORWARD! Each of us and we as a community as well as Ruth might consider what at this moment we are being invited or told! to move forward from and to. Move on? Go forward into an unknown future? In your case, Ruth, the words of Archbishop John Bothwell on the occasion of Sr. Benedetta’s Golden Jubilee in Canada express it. He spoke of the three paradoxes she had faced with courage: that of a permament faith commitment that needs renewal; of a commitment to God that can be disturbed by other people and of self-fulfilment through self-denial. The fears, the hesitations and questionings of the children of Israel were met with Moses’ assurance: God will fight the battles for you, so keep your peace and move on, or another translation, one I know Ruth will appreciate, Just shut your mouths and move on.
What was ahead of the children of Israel was the Red Sea, behind them the Egyptians armed to the teeth. The past hadn’t been all that good but at least it was familiar. Could they put a Cloud of Forgetting over it and move on? ‘Attend to tomorrow and let yesterday be’, writes the Author of the Cloud. Moving forward invites us to leave as far as we can, like Pilgrim at the Cross, those negative aspects of our lives which drag us down and back. It asks a big step of faith. It takes courage and trust.
In the summer we had the Fair in Pinner and Vivien rightly thought I should savour a local happening. The Fair’s Charter was granted by Edward I in the 12th Century, a long history like the religious life?! We wound our way past endless stalls, slides for the little ones, terrifying rides that went up and up with screaming teenagers. The instructions on one ride caught my eye:
Enter the ride one person at a time and stand with your back firmly against the wall. Press the button to begin and the ride will start moving from side to side and up and down. When it reaches its maximum speed the floor will give way. You will be held to the wall by gravity! Scary!
Go forward... Before they left Egypt at the celebration of the Passover they were told, ‘This is the beginning of days for you’..and Mother Emily reminds us that the Profession Day is the beginning of being professed, living profession just as the wedding day is the beginning of being married, of living marriage. You will have reflected on the Scripture of your life, on all those events and circs. which have brought you to this day, great things, small things, even buckles on sandals! It is very good that your mother is here as you take this step.
And what’s it all for? In the Gospel passage read today Jesus is recorded as having said, ‘For their sakes I consecrate myself, make myself holy, offer myself in sacrifice, that they may be consecrated in truth.’ Today is not only about us or you, Ruth, but has significance beyond itself. So may it and we bring a blessing how we cannot see, upon Aung San Suu Kyi, the people of Iraq, the many areas of society and the world for which you hold a compassionate concern.
You are asked do you, a fallible human being, wish to continue living here and under the Rule with this group of fallible human beings. It is implied that you know what you are doing in responding to the invitation, Go Forward. After all you have survived several years in the community (and so have we!) so you know to some extent what you are letting yourself in for. But I recall Arthur the Publican in Sydney opposite the church whose notice board read, ‘He’s got the whole world in his hands’ and Arthur who always had a saucy reply on his notice board wrote, ‘But what’s he got up his sleeve!’
The children of Israel had no idea what moving on, going forward would involve for them-the long wandering in the desert, their lapse into idolatry, their hunger and the the gift of the manna (NB only enough manna for each day, no deep freezers, no storing as an insurance policy!) and water gushing out of the rock. They were not left without all they needed for the journey, nor will you be. I have not mentioned the saints of England. We celebrate them in the Litany. But they and all the rest of the saints stand around you today in their diversity, their fortitude, adoration and joy, reaching towards that One to whom today you give yourself anew. Rilke in one of his Love Poems to God sums it up for me:
God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
‘You, sent out beyond recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.’ Rilke, Love Poems to God.
Sister Judith CSC