Sr Judith SLG

There is in true contemplation, an urgency to love God for himself and also a desire that all humankind should be drawn to respond to his mercy.

Excerpt from the Community Rule’s Chapter on Reconciliation

Who are the Sisters of the Love of God?

The Community of the Sisters of the Love of God is a contemplative community of women founded in 1906 within the Anglican Church, to witness to the priority of God, and to respond to the love of God for us, reflected in our love for God. Its members believe they are called to live a substantial degree of withdrawal from everyday life, devoting themselves to prayer in the belief that this prayer, rooted in the praise and worship of God, is essential for the peace and well-being of the world. The Sisters offer their lives to God in prayer and daily life together in Community, seeking to deepen their relationship with Jesus Christ and with one another. Sisters add the suffix SLG to their religious names.

The Community has always drawn upon Carmelite spirituality: life and prayer in silence and solitude is a very important dimension of the vocation. However, the Community also draws from other traditions, and the Rule is not specifically Carmelite. Another important ingredient is an emphasis on the centrality of Divine Office and Eucharist together in choir, inspired partly by the Benedictine way of life.

The Importance of Reconcilation

The Rule of my Community has a prominent Chapter on Reconciliation which begins with the sentence,

There is in true contemplation, an urgency to love God for himself and also a desire that all humankind should be drawn to respond to his mercy.

This one sentence encapsulates what I believe is at the heart of my life and when the going gets tough I return to it and say “Where else are you going to do this?”, so it has held me here through thick and thin for 28 years. I hope in this piece to tell my own story, but also to touch on how others have sought the same thing in different circumstances. I hope by telling a bit of my own personal story I might be able to outline how I think our life contributes to this bringing in of the Kingdom through Reconciliation. Indeed there is a note on that Chapter of the Rule which reads, It was the intention of the founders of the Community that the Sisters should be consecrated to this work of reconciliation, with the understanding of their participation in the ministry of Christ’s repairing. It references 2 Cor. 5: 18 onwards which reads,

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

My Sense of Calling

I had thought about being a nun on and off from an early age, and by the age of 26 was decidedly off the idea (wanting to have the option of having children instead). However I still had a deep Christian commitment and felt that by not being a nun I had missed out on the opportunity to learn how to pray (I haven’t managed to do that completely yet!). So I arranged a sabbatical year from my work as a peripatetic Violin teacher and planned to spend 6 months with the Sisters at Fairacres learning to pray and 6 months in India working with Mother Teresa’s sisters in a children’s home. 

During the time I was at Fairacres the First Gulf war broke out and someone dear to me was on the front line working as a Combat Medical Technician. In those days before mobile phones and social media it was possible for the government to impose a total news blackout during hostilities. All we knew was that hostilities were going on. So I found myself in chapel praying my socks off and what should float into my mind than the piece of Scripture in which Jesus says “pray for your enemies”! I felt extremely hesitant, disloyal and verging on the betraying by praying for the safety of Iraqi soldiers, yet it seemed what I was bound to do if I was going to take the Gospel seriously. But then I thought, “I bet their friends and family are likewise praying their socks off!”. Praying to the same God who created the Iraqi soldiers as much as the British ones. That sense of God creating ALL, loving all, as Jesus tells us, making his rain to fall on good and bad alike, gave me the daring I needed to utter a little prayer for Iraqi soldiers too. I’ll admit though that I did major on the British ones I knew! To my relief they returned in the April of 1991.

I then went off to India where I worked in a home with 40 children. It was called an orphanage but actually most of the children had parents but due to the way the world is economically organised, they could not afford to feed and clothe them, so brought them to the sisters to look after. I saw the joy of one family who came to take their child home when the father secured a job, but mostly I saw the pain of the children separated from their family or the father whose wife had died who could not look after the baby and keep working, so heart-rendingly handed over his baby for the sisters to care for. I was offered a job in a different home, being house mother for 100 children and I considered that seriously. But I realised that I could spend my life looking after children until I was no longer able to do so, that there would be a never-ceasing flow of children to be looked after, caused by the greed and selfishness in the world that kept some poor while others became rich….and I was well aware that I was in the rich section of the world. If I wanted to do something about the greed and selfishness in the world perhaps the best place to tackle that and possibly stem the flow of children was back at the convent?

There where a vow of poverty would mean living having all things in common and taking no more than I actually needed. Where a vow of chastity would mean I was free to be there for the whole world, not exclusively for one person. And where a vow of Obedience, really listening to the demands of the Gospel (as I had heard in the chapel when praying during the Gulf War) would re-tune my will to be more “one energy with the Will of God” as our Rule on Obedience puts it.

A Life of Withdrawal and Reconciliation

Thomas  Merton (a Cistercian monk in the USA in the 1950s and 60s) wrote of monks being like “trees which exist silently in the dark and by their vital presence purify the air”. He also said a monk “is a marginal person who withdraws deliberately to the margin of society with a view to deepening fundamental human experience”.

As Albert Camus has written in the Minator “In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion; in order to serve men better”. The withdrawal of the sort of monastic life I live is “to be the means of extending God’s love in the world” as our Rule says. Withdrawal from the world at one level precisely to engage with at a deeper level. We live an ordinary life in a particular place. A bit like a worm in the soil. If you were to ask it what it did I guess it might reply “I sleep, I eat, I move around searching for food – in short I live an ordinary life like any other creature, I am just there” but the worm’s ordinary life in the soil, it’s “just thereness” aerates the soil for all the creatures and plants that live in it.

I see that withdrawal in order to pray for the world rather like an old fashioned cartwheel. (I see the circumference as the world and the hub as God). As a spoke on that wheel I am able to connect with one particular spot on the circumference. But if I move towards the hub I not only become closer to the other spokes but also, through the hub can connect to the entire circumference. Just as I could have connected with that one spot on the circumference of the children’s home in India, but coming to the convent, I hope I am connecting through prayer to the entire world. As the blessing over a sister when she makes her Vows for life puts it “Grant that she may live by faith, rooted in hope, loving the whole world with a never-failing charity”. 

Living that ordinary life dedicated to Reconciliation and Unity led me a few years ago to spending 2 years living with 3 Roman Catholic Sisters from the Little Sisters of Jesus in Northern Ireland. We were living, in the terms of that place, Protestant and Catholic together in a predominantly Catholic, Nationalist area. For me this was living, incarnating the prayer of my life at Fairacres. Being present to and choosing to live in the continuing depravation of the area, hearing the “other side” of the story, being willing to bear the tension and the uncomfortable guilt of history (and its residual present reality) was for me very much part of my calling as a Sister of the Love of God. And my ability to adjust to a very different life and to listen to circumstances and people used all the disciplines that I had learned and lived in the convent. I couldn’t have made that shift without the “tools” living in the convent had given me. The time there meant people for whom my very English accent brought the instant association (as they told me when I left) of the door being kicked in at 2 in the morning and being made to stand spread-eagle against the wall, found themselves waiving and making friends with a representative of something they formally thought of as “enemy”. For me one of the high spots was getting a wave from someone whose flying of Irish Republic flags and anti-social behaviour towards our only Protestant neighbours who eventually moved away, had made me initially frightened of him. It took about 18 months before that wave came and in the scale of things is insignificant……yet it was for me a small shoot of the Kingdom.

Living an ordinary life in their situations is what both the Melanesian Brothers and the Monks of Tibherine did in their situations. The former providing physical sanctuary and the only safe place when serious tribal unrest kicked off in the Solomon Islands. It led them to trying to bring about peace, being the only people trusted to collect weapons and destroy them and very sadly to seven of them being taken hostage and killed. Yet the shock at their deaths, like the shock at the deaths of the monks of Tibherine in Algeria who after years of living peaceably with their Muslim neighbours were abducted and killed during the Algerian unrest (their story is told in the film Of God’s and Men), did engage the public and contribute to the bringing of an eventual peace. If you have not read the beautiful letter of Br Christian, written to be opened only in the event of his death I would commend it to you (available here). Written in 1994, so before 9/11 it seems to me to be even more relevant today. Br Christian was someone who engaged in serious study of the Qur’an and dialogue with Muslim scholars. The Reconciliation he lived between these two religions is still needed today. It enabled him to write the following in that letter,

This is what I shall be able to do, if God wills—immerse my gaze in that of the Father, to contemplate with him his children of Islam just as he sees them, all shining with the glory of Christ, the fruit of his Passion, filled with the Gift of the Spirit, whose secret joy will always be to establish communion and to refashion the likeness, delighting in the differences.

His is an extraordinary and inspiring example of how an ordinary life lived in an ordinary place under Vows with the intention of bringing in the Kingdom and living Reconciliation can bring about gifts which are unimagined and transforming, incarnating that “urgency to Love God for himself and a desire that all should be drawn to God’s Mercy.”

The Sisters of the Love of God
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