On Palm Sunday seven years ago, my dear friend, Pamela Johnson and I walked into this sacred space for the first time, took a seat, and experienced Eucharist in a way we never had before. You might call it our “first communion” with this very special community of communities. At the end of the liturgy, Pamela spoke for both of us when, with tears welling in her eyes, she said, “So this is what the church of the future looks like. And I think I just found my spiritual home.” For me, this feels more deeply like home every time I pull into the driveway.
After about a year of getting to know the monastery and its members, I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life living and growing and praying and working with these people—with you people—and to do whatever I could to help make real the mission and vision and values of the Benedictine Sisters of Madison. One way to do that was to become a Benedictine oblate. So I joined eight other intrepid souls to become the oblate class of 2013.
The formation program for oblates included a series of weekend retreats with other experienced oblates. But one retreat was for oblate candidates only, when just the nine of us spent a weekend with members of the formation team at our wonderful Retreat & Guest House. And within that retreat, I most remember and treasure when the sisters joined us for a session focused on the history of Holy Wisdom and the essential values and practices of Benedictine spirituality—some of which you just heard reflected in the sisters’ comments.
After the sisters had shared their thoughts, we moved into an open conversation. I asked Sr. Mary David if there were some definitive moments or events in their long history, forks in the road or turning points of such significance that had they made a different decision, the monastery as we know it might not have emerged. Mary David, in her straight-to-the-point manner, said, “No, not at all. We just got up each morning, prayed together, and did our work. Each time we faced an issue or challenge, we made the best decision we could, and trusted it would be enough. And the next day, we did that again. And the next day, again. And here we are.”
That’s 65 years, day after day, of faithfully living the Benedictine way, with all its routines and rhythms, its gifts and challenges, its highs and lows, its predictability as well as its wondrous surprises. I did the math. That’s 23,709 days (and yes, I factored in 16 leap years!), 23,709 days, one day at a time, of living the Benedictine vows of stability, obedience and conversion of life. And here we are. Amazing grace, indeed.
Fifty years ago, when I was in my early 20s, I bought a book titled Markings. It’s author, Dag Hammarskjold, was a Swedish diplomat and served as the second Secretary-General of the United Nations until his death in 1961 in a plane crash while en route to negotiate a cease-fire in a conflict in the Republic of Congo. His diary was discovered after his death and published in 1963 and became an international best seller. Many who knew Hammarskjold were aware that he was a religious man, but they were stunned by the diary’s spiritual depth and insight. Some consider him a genuine mystic.
One very brief entry in this book has over time become a kind of mantra for me, summing up in just a dozen words the attitude with which I try to live my life and, at the risk of melodrama, hope to have in my heart, if not on my lips, when I die. And I think they might sum up what we now feel on this very special occasion. Hammarskjold wrote this:
For all that has been—Thanks!
To all that shall be—Yes!
This evening, dear sisters—old, young, and in between (and you know who you are!)—this is what we hold in our hearts for you and because of you, and what we want you to now hold in your hearts as well:
- For ALL that you and all the Benedictine women who have walked these sacred grounds over these 65 years have done—for day after day after day faithfully living into the mission, vision, and values of what is now Holy Wisdom Monastery, and especially for inviting all of us into your home, we can only say, thank you, thank you, thank you.
- As for all that shall be? Of course, that’s wrapped in deep mystery. But given what has unfolded here over the past 65 years, it’s possible that the Holy Wisdom Monastery of 2083 may look as different from today as we do from our founding as a high school for girls in 1953. In light of that, perhaps the greatest gift we can offer you this evening, sisters, is this commitment: We will do everything in our power to do what you have done: We will try every day to get up with hope in our hearts, to say our prayers, to do the work that has to be done, to make the best decisions we can make, and trust that it will be enough. And we will do that day after day after day. And 65 years from now, our heirs may gather in a celebration like this one, and shout out, “My, oh my, what wonders Spirit has done among us!”
To that unknowable future, with trusting hearts we loudly proclaim yes, yes, yes! Amen, amen, amen!