Endings/Beginnings

Rosy Kandathil, OSB A Benedictine Sojourner's Journey, Living in Community 2 Comments

I’ve never liked endings. I often cling to the last pages of my favorite books, deliberately reading slowly just to wrangle more time with a beloved character. But no matter how I try to delay, there is no escaping the inevitable. From the beginning, the final page of the story always looms ahead, promising an unavoidable return trip back to my own real world.

The final short story that Gregory the Great recounts of Benedict in the Dialogues is essentially an epilogue, set long after the holy man’s death. The scene opens on a deeply disturbed woman who, having lost all sense of reason, wanders incessantly “up and down, day and night, in mountains and valleys, in woods and fields, resting only when utter exhaustion forced it.” Anxious and driven, she is described as a madwoman that moves compulsively but without direction, running in circles, unable to stop. Then, in a characteristic twist, Gregory reports that she comes to the mouth of a certain cave in Subiaco.

“Subiaco?” The reader might exclaim here in surprised recognition.

Unwittingly, the woman had stumbled upon the cave where Benedict spent 3 early years in solitude with God. As if by Russell Cave NPS photoinstinct, she enters the dark cool interior, curls up in a corner and falls asleep. She awakens to the morning sun, miraculously restored to her senses and full of focus—as if she had never suffered from sickness at all.

The story is set many years after Benedict’s passing, and so the miracle is especially curious. The distressed woman never meets Benedict, never prays or asks directly for healing, and is completely unaware of the cave’s significance when she comes upon it. Yet by seeming happenstance she finds the cure for her illness inside. Why does Gregory choose to end Benedict’s story on this mysterious postscript?

This is certainly no afterthought.  As I reflect on this marvelous ending, I have come to appreciate Gregory’s skillful use of teaching stories. I can see how the woman’s plight is meant to parallel the spiritual journey—so often characterized by a winding way, full of complex twists and turns, ups and downs. Her restless, compulsive activity is such a common complaint of the modern age that it’s hard to believe the story was written in the 6th century. As if addressing readers in the distant future, Gregory tells us Benedict’s last miracle is not shown to a monk or priest or religious person; it is instead a homeless laywoman who benefits, and by accident. Her cure begins in an intuitive, unknowing discovery of Benedict’s cave, where she returns to her senses, not through extraordinary acts of faith and prayer, but through the ordinary act of rest.

By ending with this powerful parable, Gregory illustrates the profound healing effect of one holy life in the world. More than 1500 years later, Benedict’s teachings continue to offer guidance and wisdom to seekers. Could Gregory ever have guessed how prescient his story actually was? Replete with the symbols of darkness and light, sleeping and waking, sickness and health, the story points toward Christ and the paschal mystery central to the Christian faith. This is an ending that directs us, with vigorous hope, to a new beginning.

As I reflect on the end of my Benedictine Sojourner year and all I’ve experienced, it is hard to say what has impacted me most. What could have prepared me for this year of living in community with women I did not know, of praying the Liturgy of the Hours, of eating regularly with strangers and finding camaraderie and common ground at the table, of learning to pay attention to the gifts in the present moment, of kindling a recognition of God in everything and everyone? It has been a year of changes and interior surprises, but simultaneously, perhaps paradoxically, of deep stability and predictability.  Like the disoriented madwoman who unwittingly entered Benedict’s cave and found her senses restored, I’ve emerged from this time with a renewed sense of direction and purpose.

If you’ve journeyed with me along the way, patiently reading these posts, I give thanks for your companionship. It is both relief and sadness that meet me when I think of ending this blog. Relief because writing is hard work for me and does not come easily; sadness because the regular discipline of careful reflecting and writing helped deepen and integrate my experiences, while also inviting a community of readers to share in my life and learning. This blog has been a valuable part of my journey, and I’m enormously grateful for the good company and prayers it has generated for me. But as my Benedictine Sojourner year draws to its close, I celebrate the prophetic message embedded in Gregory’s last story of Benedict: every great ending points to a new beginning.

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We are grateful for the way Rosy has shared her journey – A Sojourner’s Journey – in these blog posts. Follow this link to read her earlier posts:

Living in Community – A Benedictine Sojourner’s Journey

 

photo credit:  Russell Cave National Monument, NPS photo

Comments 2

  1. I had the great pleasure to meet Rosy at my retreat earlier this month. She is a great inspiration to me, both from meeting her and reading her blog. Blessings to Rosy in her continued journey.

    Pam Harstad
    Evansdale, Iowa

    1. Thanks, Pam. It was a pleasure meeting you at Holy Wisdom, and I look forward to seeing you there again in the future! – Rosy

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