Wednesday, October 28, 2009


When Elizabeth heard that Mary was going to come and visit, did she start to clean the house? That is one of the questions about Luke’s version of the Visitation that I’ve never heard asked. But it makes sense doesn’t it? That is what women tend to do, get the house ready for guests, make sure that the nice towels are put out in the bathroom, the good plates are rescued from their cupboard and everything is dusted and shined.

I’ve been thinking about the visitation of Mary and Elizabeth because we are having our own “visitation” this week. Just as Mary visited Elizabeth to be with her, support her and to be supported and encouraged in return, so too we have holy women coming to share with us. In Benedictine monasteries every 5-6 years sisters from other monasteries come and help us evaluate how we are living our monastic life. This process is called “visitation.”

We welcomed our “visitators” on Monday night with a special prayer service and party afterwards. And of course with a tour of newly cleaned and shined monastery! Since then they have been meeting with most of our departments and committees and reviewing piles of documents. They meet individually with each sister who wants to talk with them. They share our life, coming to prayer, meals and meetings with us.

This is a week of listening. Like the visit of Mary and Elizabeth it is holy listening. Holy listening isn’t always easy listening. I always imagine Mary and Elizabeth exchanging tips on how to cope with vicissitudes of pregnancy, what helps for morning sickness, what to do when you feel like a whale and can’t get comfortable, how to handle perplexed husbands who are still trying to understand what is happening. In the same way we share our hopes and frustrations with our visitators about what it means to bear God in our world today. As monastics we live in community, and that never ending process of rubbing against one another day in and day out, year after year, is how we come to transformation, to new life in the Spirit. Just as Mary and Elizabeth supported one another so we, too, need to be able to share with people who know this way of life, and can reassure us that there is indeed new life gestating in our midst.

At the end of the week, after reviewing and reflecting on all they have heard and seen the visitators will write a report of their impressions that they will share with the community. In many ways this visitation report will be our common “Magnificat.” When Mary and Elizabeth greeted one another Mary’s response was her beautiful, challenging hymn of praise. She sang of what God was doing in her life and in the lives of the people of God. At the end of this week we too will be able to share the great things and the challenges of how God is working in our lives here in the Monastery of St. Gertrude.

Like the Magnificat the report will contain both affirmation and challenge. Mary sang of a God who turns the world upside down and upends the complacency of the self-satisfied. This will be a good thing for us to keep in mind as we hear some specific recommendations for how we can better live into our call to progress on this “Gospel way” as disciples of Christ and daughters of Benedict. At the same time we will hear what we already know but need to be reminded of, that we are a deeply faithful group of women who are doing amazing things for the Reign of God and our faith will continue to flower, mature and bear fruit in our world for many years to come.

Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months, our visitators will only stay for a week, but in each case we will all be transformed by the event. Together we will retain the memory of a new song of praise to God, a new vision of God working in our lives and a new and renewed sense of hope for the future.

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