‘Be prepared – you cannot deny the call’

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Sr Hilda Scott, standing at back and left, with postulants and novices earlier this year at the Jamberoo Benedictine abbey.
Sr Hilda Scott, standing at back and left, with postulants and novices earlier this year at the Jamberoo Benedictine abbey.

There is a delightful section in the book The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame.

Though purported to be a children’s book, it speaks to the heart of life. One day two of the main characters, Mole and Ratty, are travelling along a road in search of their wayward friend Toad. Mole starts to lag behind, he can smell something utterly familiar, everything in him is drawn to he knows not what.

Eventually he sits on a rock and cries because he realises he has heard the call of his home and no amount of pushing himself or reasoning will move him on.

Ratty, a good friend indeed who had been travelling on ahead, comes back and inquires about the nature of his distress.

Mole simply blurts out that he can “smell home”. He can hear it calling and he has to go there. Ratty entirely understands and the direction of their journey changes.

They must follow this innate call, they must find home. And they do, with wonderful results.

For centuries men and women of every kind have known that call too. They have “smelt home”. It is a call speaking within of potential happiness, that sends one in the direction of “one knows not what” and “who knows who”, that captures one’s whole attention and won’t let go; a call that holds us and reveals to us the only thing that matters — love.

And “love is indeed a many splendoured thing” as an old song used to say. God knows all about it, since He Himself is love, and it is He who calls.

If we are in touch, we will find deep within each of us something of that call. We get into touch with it through prayer, through things that are said to us, through what we read, though events that come across our path. We seem to know ourselves and our potential with a new clarity and we get a sense of who is calling. Our life has a purpose and a meaning even if not clear.

If the call is heard right, then be prepared; it will cost everything, but deny the call you cannot. You can try, but it will linger on your life as insistently as the sun beckons you into the day, and carry the lifelong refrain, “It might have been.”

We are all called by love toward love and there are many roads. For our purposes here I want to concentrate on just one of those roads, the Benedictine Monastic Road as lived by the Benedictine nuns of Jamberoo. Who are we?

We are ordinary people, from many and varied backgrounds who have all heard a call addressed personally to each of us. We came not sure of what responding to this call would mean.

We knew it would involve early morning prayer (4.30 am), that we would not be leaving the monastery except for essential things, that our families and friends would be visiting us, and that we would not be visiting them except in cases of extreme illness.

We knew that we would meet seven times a day for the Liturgy of the Hours, and that there would be a time for personal prayer as well.

We knew that we would live and work with a community of like-minded people who had vowed themselves to the only search that really matters — the search for God.

Like Mole we had been captivated by Someone stronger than ourselves, by the sense of “home”, of God, by the possibility of a purpose-filled life.

Yet it is only with the passing of time and the lived reality of giving ourselves day by day to the unknown, that we came to understand what God had in mind in calling us.

We came to see that by embracing a life of deep love, silence, solitude, prayer and work, by our apparent being cut off from the world by our life of enclosure, that we were actually meeting God and His much loved world.

We began to know that this life was not lived for ourselves but for every lost soul that will ever walk or crawl upon this earth.

That we, in responding to the Call, had actually chosen to take the place of all mankind before God; that we had taken up residence at the centre of people’s pain, the place where, known or unknown, God is closest.

No drug addict, no criminal, no-one is exempt from the prayer and unseen life that the Benedictine nun lives with God. We came to understand that we, ordinary sinful people, enter into real communion with God and in time have come to know Him in ways we could never have imagined.

We are like trees that take in carbon dioxide and quietly turn it into oxygen. Benedictine nuns make a life form with God, of changing the carbon dioxide of pain within the world into the oxygen of love.

This road may be exacting from time to time, but for the one called, the one who has “smelt home”, all is joy.

jamberooabbey.org.au